Coach or mentor? Nowadays you can hear a lot about coaches and mentors. They are the ones who help employees to succeed and be effective. But in which case are you supposed to turn to a coach and when to a mentor? In this article, we’ll look at this question also outline the differences between the two.
What does the coach do?
The term ’coach’ comes from the sport and originally means sport coach (trainer). When it is about coaching in connection with work or corporate environment, the meaning of the word does not fall very far from this interpretation either.
When managers or employees need a coach, the focus is on personalized development and on business or personal counseling. Therefore, you may say, the coach helps his clients just like a trainer, however, in the business area.
Likewise, sports: the role of the trainer is not to complete the swimming distance instead of the person, he rather supports the athlete from the background. He doesn’t work with ’ready-for-use, pre-packaged’ solutions, but develops his supporting strategy based on the individual’s own preparedness, abilities, and resources.
A manager or subordinate usually asks for coaching help when he or she has difficulties in solving a particular problem.
These can be, for example, a new role, introduction of new processes, reorganization of a department or management of a complex project. The client should be aware that the coach doesn’t solve the problem instead of him or her, he doesn’t decide on a professional issue, since he might not even be an expert on the specific area. Instead, he supports the individual in embarking on the task, successfully managing problems, and coming to the right conclusions. Meetings between the coach and the client take place privately, and their relationship is based on mutual trust. The coach listens carefully, asks a lot, and gives helpful feedback to the client.
Coaching can be especially crucial for introverted leaders who are new in their position, may have less experience, or need to strengthen their self-confidence.
Can an introverted person become a good leader? Read our article here:
What does the mentor do?
The conception and activities of a mentor differ from those of a coach.
In an organizational setting, the mentor is primarily responsible for facilitating the integration and development of the new employee or a junior colleague.
He has significant experience and is well acquainted with the company. He is aware of business goals, therefore he can judge correctly what kind of help an employee needs most. Unlike a coach, an important part of a mentor’s task is to pass on his or her professional knowledge as quickly as possible, in order to integrate the new employee smoothly. You can turn to your mentor later, too, and once the trust has been developed, the mentor can mean a serious support even beyond professional issues. A good mentor needs to be patient, since a newcomer doesn’t know the processes and procedure at first, meaning, all information will be new for them. The mentor can expect to receive many questions and, at least in the beginning, his work will increase.
Coach or mentor? How can you decide which one you need?
Imagine a coach accepting a leadership position that means managing an entire team. How can he or she decide which form of support the team needs: coaching or mentoring?
This is not a simple situation, as the coach’s toolkit does not include handing over the specific advice and expertise. Team members may be young or lacking experience – in this case it can be especially frustrating for them to have a leader withholding her knowledge and not being present as an expert. If the new manager chooses to be a mentor, she needs to consider the goals of both the team and the organization. By this, she prefers direct guidance and giving advice. If she finds coaching more appropriate, she should refrain from sharing knowledge and is rather supposed to support, or “train” team members.
Thus, the key differences between a coach and a mentor are:
- Doesn’t judge
- Mentions examples / ideas
- Encourages mutual thinking
- Leaves the decision to the customer
- Supports from the background
- Focuses on certain areas of development
- Works in a time frame
- His/her judgment is needed
- Gives examples / ideas
- Give specific advice
- Leads by example
- Provides a practical solution
- Stands by the individual
- Helps in development in a wide range
- May work for a long time
Let’s look at an example of how a mentor and how a coach handles a particular problem in an office environment!
Kevin (co-worker): Sandra, could you help me with how to add customers to the online system database?
Sandra (mentor): Of course, certainly. I’ll write a couple of emails and then I’ll send you what the steps are.
Kevin: Great, thank you!
Kevin: Sandra, I logged into our online system, but I’m not sure how to retrieve customer data from the database. Can you help me?
Sandra: Of course. Do you have any idea where you could look into this?
Kevin: I remember Benjamin already doing the same thing in the old system. Maybe I should ask him.
Sandra: Yeah, that’s a good idea. Do you know anyone else who might help?
Kevin: Yes, now I recall that when our sales department registers a new customer, a database list is automatically created. I ask Robert, he works there and I’m pretty sure, he knows.
Sandra: Cool! It is settled then.
The example demonstrates that in the second case, Sandra could easily have told Kevin what to do. By choosing the coaching-type support, he encouraged Kevin to find the right solution on his own. She posed questions and listened carefully, which guided Kevin in the right direction.
In a work environment, this method also has the benefit of increasing the self-confidence of the person seeking help, who will consider potential solutions, and will not ask similar questions. He or she already knows how to approach a familiar problem.
Of course, employees or clients who have received mentoring in the past may be more willing to accept specific help.
This may be an appropriate tactic sometimes, but a leader is better to consider whether it would be more helpful to encourage team members to seek the solution on their own before asking. In such cases, coaching can help employees increase their knowledge, become more independent, and be able to make their own decisions.
If you are interested in this topic, we recommend Michael Bungay Stanier’s book: ‘The Coaching Habit, Say Less, Ask More & Change The Way You Lead Forever’. The hands-on book will not teach you how to become a coach, but focuses on practical and easy-to-apply questioning techniques and methods mainly for leaders.
When a new member joins the team, mentoring may be more effective at first, but later the coaching method can be more effective.
This provides the leader the opportunity to help in each phase according to the preparedness of the colleague. Consequently, he can better focus on his own tasks and role, with which both he and his team can perform more successfully.
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