When it comes to employee development, a failure to understand the differences between coaching and mentoring can lead to disappointing results. So let's look at some of these differences.
First, let's talk about what I mean by the different terms. I define mentoring as a professional relationship in which an experienced person (the mentor) assists a less-experienced person (the mentoree) in transforming professionally and personally. Mentoring involves regular discussions and debates, increased self-awareness, and acquisition of specific skills or knowledge.
Now, let's look at coaching. While many definitions exist, here's the definition I use: Coaching is about skills and knowledge acquisition. Although it may involve the personal, the primary focus is professional. In many ways, coaching is akin to teaching. A coach works with an individual (the coachee) so that the coachee learns a particular skill or piece of knowledge.
Now, let's dig a little deeper into some of the subtleties between the two.
Tasks vs. Relationships
Coaching is task oriented. It seeks to bring the coachee to a different level of competency regarding new skills or knowledge. The focus is on concrete issues, such as managing more effectively, speaking more articulately, or learning how to think strategically. This requires a content expert (i.e., the coach) who is capable of teaching the coachee how to develop these skills. To be effective, the coach must have credibility as an expert and be able to communicate with the coachee. Developing an ongoing personal relationship is not a critical factor for success.
Mentoring is relationship oriented. It seeks to provide a safe environment where the mentoree can share whatever critical issues affect professional and personal success. Although specific learning goals or competencies may be used as a basis for creating the relationship, mentoring's focus goes beyond these areas to include things like work/life balance, self-confidence, self-perception, and how the personal influences the professional. Content expertise is not as critical for the mentor since the mentor plays the role of facilitator rather than coach.
Short Term vs. Long Term
A coach can successfully be involved with a coachee for a short period. The coaching lasts for as long as needed, depending on the purpose of the coaching relationship.
Effective mentoring is always long term, even in an informal relationship. Mentoring requires time in which both partners can learn about one another and build a climate of trust. This, in turn, creates an environment in which the mentoree can feel secure in sharing real issues that affect success. Building trust takes time. Informal mentoring relationships should last at least six months. I recommend nine to twelve whenever possible.
Performance Driven vs. Development Driven
Coaching helps improve an individual's performance on the job. The coachee learns to enhance existing skills or acquire new skills. Once the coachee acquires these skills, the coachee doesn't need a coach anymore.
Mentoring is development driven. Mentoring helps the mentoree develop professionally and personally for the here and now, but also for the future. Mentoring is forward thinking and motivational.
Pay-to-Play vs. Volunteering
Coaches receive payment for their services, either directly from the coachee or from the coachee's organization.
Mentors never receive compensation for their services. They provide this service out of a generosity of spirit. Mentors cite various reasons for mentoring, but one of the most common is the desire to give back and/or "pay it forward."
Because mentors don't receive compensation, their performance isn't tied to the mentoree's. This brings a certain objectivity that is missing in coaching.
Business vs. Personal
Coaches primarily focus on business issues. If I'm coaching someone on how to use a sophisticated software system or how to write better reports, I don't need to engage the coachee in understanding their personal worldview for this to be effective. When the coaching engagement is over, the only question that matters is this: Can the person use the system? Or can the person now write effectively? These are the purposes and outcomes of coaching, not whether the coachee feels better or views this as a career stepping-stone.
Mentors balance both the business and the personal, since the business and personal infuse and affect one another. Mentoring discussions focus on interpersonal dynamics on how the mentoree's view of the world, sense of self, ethics, and values affect the mentoree's development. For this reason, mentoring has a spiritual component. By that, I mean mentoring concentrates on the whole person and in areas that don't typically come up in the workplace. Mentoring seeks to integrate the business and the personal so that they inform the complete individual.
Experts vs. Facilitators
Coaches tend to be experts in specific areas (e.g., business coach, leadership coach, etc.). Content expertise is a requirement for effective coaching. The coach is the one who guides and directs the coachee in learning the expertise the coach has to offer.
A mentor is a developmental facilitator. The mentor may have content expertise, but what's more important is for the mentor to have the interpersonal skills to create a safe learning environment. In this environment, the mentoree can be empowered to seek solutions and find expertise when needed if it does not reside with the mentor.
One-directional vs. Bi-directional
Coaching focuses on the coachee's needs, period. The coach isn't expecting to gain anything except compensation for services provided. Whether a coach gains personal insight or learns anything new from the coachee is irrelevant to effective coaching.
Mentoring is bi-directional. Both mentors and mentorees benefit from the relationship. Mentors often articulate that they gain new perspectives, a renewed sense of their own abilities and expertise, and the satisfaction in knowing they have assisted another person in developing professionally and personally.
Behavioral Transformation vs. Personal Transformation
Coaching is concerned about behavioral transformation. In other words, coaching focuses on getting someone to do something better and gain new expertise. Whether that behavior translates itself into actually changing the inner personal dynamics of the coachee is not the prime concern.
Mentoring is concerned about personal transformation. This may or may not link to a specific business competency or area of expertise. Mentoring is concerned with assisting mentorees in maintaining their genuine identities as members of the organization.
Remember, coaching and mentoring are both effective approaches to talent development. When creating formal mentoring or coaching programs, a company's specific needs should provide guidance regarding which option to choose. Making the right decision for the right reasons will help lead to more positive outcomes.
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