What are the similarities and differences between coaching and mentoring?
If you’re reading this, you’ve likely noticed how tough it is to distinguish between coaching vs. mentoring. Both are necessary for our personal and professional growth. Both provide support. Both help us reach our full potential. And to make matters more complicated, the words “coaching” and “mentoring” are often used interchangeably.
So what’s the difference? I talked to professional coaches and mentors to really understand the key difference between coaching and mentoring.
Dan Mason, career and life transition coach at Creative Soul Coaching
Maresa Friedman, business strategist at The Executive Cat Herder
Rahkim Sabree, financial coach and mentor
Stacy Roberts, certified executive coach and owner of SMR Leadership Solutions
Anna Dearmon Kornick, time management coach
In 2016, help desk software company Groove decided to hire an executive coach. At the time, the company was doing quite well, was profitable, and had just taken on a new investor and advisor. They’d also written publicly about how helpful mentorship had been for their company. So why the move to hire a coach?
On the Groove blog, CEO Alex Turnbull explains that they made the decision “in the hopes of making our entire team more focused, productive and effective.”
Turnbull identified two specific areas where a business coach could help take the team to the next level:
The Groove team filled out questionnaires and assessments before spending three days on a retreat with their coach. They packed the hours with team bonding and lots of planning. Their coach looked at the big-picture view of the company, challenged the team to figure out Groove's "why,” and set goals for the first quarter of the new year.
“In the end, we came away with more clarity and determination than we’ve had since we started Groove,” Turnbull writes.
In 2017, proposal software company Proposify hit a plateau. The newly established leadership team consisted of many people who had never been in management positions before, and they struggled with creating structure.
“As the CEO, I knew how critical it was to design and implement a structure that would serve as the foundation that supported the kind of growth I knew we were capable of,” writes Kyle Racki.
That’s when Racki hired a business coach, who taught the team a framework for structuring departments, communicating better, and delegating tasks.
The following year, Proposify grew from 20 employees to more than 60.
“If it wasn’t for the strength of the foundational framework and systems, we may well have crumbled under our own weight,” writes Racki. “Guidance on how best to design a robust framework that can handle rapid growth is one of the biggest things I’ve gotten out of business coaching.”
Often, executives hire coaches when they want to become better leaders, either through developing leadership skills or establishing systems to help them manage their time better. Time management coach Anna Dearmon Kornick gave an example of a new chief development officer who approached her for coaching.
“She'd never led a team before, nor had she worked with an executive assistant,” recalls Kornick. “She felt like she was drowning in emails and didn't have time to actually lead because she was dealing with so many details.”
So Kornick asked her client to complete an in-depth personality preference assessment and worked with her and her assistant to create a system for staying organized.
“Once we had a solid foundation in place that spoke to her unique personality preferences and belief system, our sessions varied in focus from establishing boundaries to managing difficult employees to breaking bad habits to refining systems and processes for communication and accountability with her team,” she says.
Thanks to Kornick’s coaching, the chief development officer scaled her department from five to 27 employees and exceeded fundraising goals, all while dealing with the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Changing jobs is challenging enough, but changing industries can often feel impossible. If your goal is to break into a new career field, you might consider hiring a coach.
That’s precisely what one stay-at-home mom did when she approached Dan Mason, a career and life transition coach who has first-hand experience with drastic change—he left his six-figure executive job to pursue a meaningful career in coaching.
In this case, Mason’s client had a lifelong dream of becoming a television host—but she had no experience in the field. So when QVC was searching for new hosts, Mason worked with her to create action steps to submit an audition package. The casting agents were so impressed with it that they invited her to do a Skype audition. Within 11 weeks of working with Mason, she was in Manhattan auditioning in front of the network’s executives.
“The experience gave my client a newfound confidence,” Mason says, “and while she didn’t get that particular job, she’s been doing TV and commercial work ever since!”
Elizabeth Ward, the CMO for United Way of Greater Atlanta, hired a career coach before assuming the role. Why? She'd been out of the corporate world for 16 years and knew she'd need support in the transition.
So if transitioning to a new role, especially one in leadership, has you feeling out of your element, a coach can help you prepare and perform well.
Nearly all reasons for needing coaching come down to one root issue: You feel stuck in some way. Sometimes, you may not even be sure why you feel stuck. And that’s okay, a coach can still help!
“When people come to me for mentorship or coaching, they feel like they have hit a stopping point or know they need to develop, but are not sure how,” says Stacy Roberts, a certified executive coach.
“For example, a woman may want to advance her career, but she has issues with impostor syndrome or knowing what needs to be done to get promoted. With executive coaching, she can be taught the skills to grow. She can receive feedback and be taught techniques to accelerate in her career. By obtaining a mentor, she will secure critical advice and guidance, testimonies, trial and error, and experience from one who has once been where she is and has achieved the position to where she would like to go.”
Still not sure whether you need coaching or mentoring? Just ask! For instance, if there’s a more senior coworker in your department you’d like to learn from, invite them to lunch. Explain where you’re struggling and ask if they think they could mentor you.
Alternatively, Google coaches in your specific field or ask around in your network for recommendations. Schedule discovery calls with these coaches, and ask whether they think you need mentoring or coaching—or both!
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