For those of you who read our newsletter, you are aware that I continuously attempt to clarify the differences between mentoring and coaching. The confusion about these two powerful but different strategic initiatives can result in bad mentoring and poor coaching. Unfortunately, the most recent example is found in none other than one of the largest professional associations for trainers: T & D magazine, September 2009 issue: 21st Century Mentoring: Mentoring for the masses. The free exchange of knowledge. Open learning connections.
Two problems with this article:
(1) There’s really nothing new here except to discuss the issue of social networking, e-mentoring portals and webinars, all of which have been around for some time so not exactly new, even as applied to mentoring.
(2) Since the article is written by a consultant with an e-mentoring system that is built on a coaching platform, it’s not surprising that the article presents mentoring as a knowledge transfer vehicle with all of these connections to people.
As I’ve stated in prior articles and blogs, I have no problem with coaching as a strategy. My problem lies with writers who continue to confuse mentoring and coaching and thus offer solutions that don’t necessarily fit the need. As much as it’s nice to say that mentoring is for the masses, the problem is that not everyone is ready or needs mentoring and establishing real mentoring relationships takes time and cannot be done with very many people. One can have multiple coaches based upon the area of expertise and knowledge I’m seeking as coaching is generally short term and focused. Mentoring, on the other hand, is about establishing a long-term relationship in which I can share my developmental challenges that go beyond simply acquiring knowledge or skills. To use an analogy: coaching is like speed dating whereas mentoring is about being engaged in a relationship.
Why is my harping on this important for you the reader? So that you implement the right program rather than any program. If you want to expand knowledge to large groups then coaching is the correct vehicle. You can recruit coaches who volunteer and not worry about matching as all that’s necessary is for the coach’s expertise to be known and for him/her to be available. You don’t need training, as such, in finding a coach or in being a coach. This presumes that one is not a professional coach as that’s a different tract. If you have employees who need remedial assistance then access to coaches can be very helpful. If you have new employees coming into the company then having a coach who is with you during the first few weeks or months can be very helpful. If, however, you’re looking to build tomorrow’s leaders or to retain your employees, mentoring provides the personal and meaningful relationship that will make a real difference. Yes, in mentoring I will receive coaching but what is even more important is that I will have someone in my company who takes a person and abiding interest in my professional development and, in this relationship built on mutual trust, I have the opportunity to deepen my understanding of myself both individually and professionally and to be truly transformed.
So, if you want a quick and easy strategy for knowledge transfer then coaching is your option. If you want to create a true mentoring culture and deepen your employees’ commitment to the company, mentoring will provide the better solution and outcome.