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Career Corner
Coaching and Mentoring

Pramila Mathew -- Many of us are unclear what coaching and mentoring really involve, and where and when they work. We have a number of questions: What does a coach or mentor actually do? Is there any real difference between them? How can they help me and my career?

Coaching and mentoring are popular capacity-building tools, especially in the area of leadership development. They are often mentioned in proposals and reviews as key elements of good capacity-building practice. Yet despite their current status, many of us are unclear what coaching and mentoring really involve, and where and when they work. We have a number of questions: What does a coach or mentor actually do? Is there any real difference between them?

Mentors in either a formal mentoring program or informal relationship focus on the person, their career and support for individual growth and maturity while the coach is job-focused and performance oriented. A mentor is like a sounding board; they can give advice, but the partner is free to pick and choose what they do. The context does not have specific performance objectives. A coach is trying to direct a person to some end result; the person may choose how to get there, but the coach is strategically assessing and monitoring the progress and giving advice for effectiveness and efficiency.

Mentoring is biased in your favor. Coaching is impartial, focused on improvement in behavior. In summary, the mentor has a deep personal interest, [and is] personally involved -- a friend who cares about you and your long term development. The coach develops specific skills for the task, challenges and performance expectations at work. Mentoring is a power free, two-way mutually beneficial relationship. Mentors are facilitators and teachers allowing the partners to discover their own direction.

"They let me struggle so I could learn."

"Never provided solutions -- always asking questions to surface my own thinking and let me find my own solutions."

A coach has a set agenda to reinforce or change skills and behaviors. The coach has an objective/goals for each discussion. In our study, the top four words chosen to best describe their mentor's dominant style were --friend/confidant, direct, logical, questioner.

Even in formal mentoring programs, the partners and mentor have choices -- to continue, how long, how often, and our focus. Self-selection is the rule in informal mentoring relationships, with the partners initiating and actively maintaining the relationship. If I'm your mentor, you probably picked me. In an organization your coach hired you. Coaching comes with the job, a job expectation, in some organizations a defined competency for managers and leaders.

The interpersonal skills will determine the effectiveness of influence for both coach and mentor. The coach also has an implied or actual level of authority by nature of their position; ultimately they can insist on compliance. A mentor's influence is proportionate to the perceived value they can bring to the relationship. It is a power free relationship based on mutual respect and value for both mentor and partners. Your job description might contain "coach" or you might even have that job title --it's just a label or expectation. "Mentor" is a reputation that has to be personally earned; you are not a mentor until the partners say you are. The coach's returns are in the form of more team harmony, and job performance. The mentoring relationship is reciprocal. There is a learning process for the mentor from the feedback and insights of the partners.

"The ability to look at situations from a different perspective, I am a Generation X and he is in his 60's."

The relationship is a vehicle to affirm the value of and satisfaction from fulfilling a role as helper and developer of others. Mentors need not be an all-knowing expert -- such a position could be detrimental. In our study the most significant thing the mentor did was "listened and understood me" and, "built my confidence and trust in myself, empowered me to see what I could do."

A great deal of informal mentoring is occurring, with at-risk youth, in our schools, as well as in volunteer, not-for-profit and for-profit organizations. If I am your mentor, chances are you have chosen me to be of help with some aspect of your life. Coaching even in the sporting arena is task related -- improvement of knowledge, skills, or abilities to better perform a given task. Mentors are sought for broader life and career issues. The partner is proactive in seeking out mentors and keeping the relationship productive. The coach creates the need for discussion and is responsible for follow up and holding others accountable.

Coaching and Mentoring are not the same thing. Our results and experience support the conclusion that mentoring is a power free, two-way mutually beneficial learning situation where the mentor provides advice, shares knowledge and experiences, and teaches using a low pressure, self-discovery approach. The mentor is both a source of information/knowledge and a Socratic questioner. If I am your coach you probably work for me and my concern is your performance, ability to adapt to change, and enrolling you support in the vision/direction for our work unit.

Coaching and mentoring today are key focus areas for organizations with respect to L&D initiatives for leadership and leaders in waiting.!

Pramila Mathew specializes in Management Coaching and Mentoring and in Leadership Development. With over 25 years of experience in the global workspace, she is one of the few Training Consultants with a background in business and psychology. She heads MMM Training Solutions, a softskills training consultancy that focuses on training and development and business coaching as the catalyst of enhancing performance management.

© 2012 Pramila Mathew

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