Whenever we talk about developing the capabilities of our leaders, the terms coaching and mentoring come up. In fact they are readily used by all and are used without any apparent understanding of the distinction between the two. In my experience, many leaders assume that coaching and mentoring are the same and do not need to be thought of in different ways.
This lack of clarity is understandable. Both coaching and mentoring usually involve an experienced person providing guidance and advice to help a leader achieve success. While there are definitely similarities there, there are also some significant differences. Interestingly enough, it is these differences that make both coaching and mentoring worthy of consideration when selecting the appropriate development tools for your team.
I recently came across an article by Thuy and Milo Sindell, ‘Mentoring and Leadership Coaching are not the same. Do you know the difference?’, in which they note some of the major differences between mentoring and leadership coaching. Some of the key differences noted in the article are:
Mentors are experience based. Mentors share their own personal experiences, knowledge and insights to assist the development process. The overall experience is more relationship-based than performance-based.
Coaches are task focused. Coaching is aimed at improving specific skills that are needed at that time or at some time in the future. Coaches encourage leaders to look back on their own performance and try to determine how they could have improved the outcomes.
Relationships matter. Mentoring is not about immediate action, it is about building a long term relationship in a safe environment where the mentee can grow. Research has shown that those leaders that are connected to a mentor are also more connected to their employer.
Reflection is critical. Coaching is action orientated and requires leaders to reflect upon their performance. They are asked to identify how the outcomes could have been better and what is needed to get better. They need to reflect upon their performance and create a plan to get better in an agreed timeframe.
Mentoring is relationship orientated that is long term and development driven. Coaching is task orientated, generally a short term process and driven by the desire to improve performance. It is also apparent that if the correct approach is not applied, it is often the leaders who are being coached/mentored that miss out.
For all their differences, it is important to note that both coaching and mentoring are needed, and both serve an important purpose in developing the skills of leaders. One is not necessarily better than the other but it is important to recognise the difference to ensure you are using the appropriate tool at the appropriate time. The key question is, do you now know which tool to use and when to use it?