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When should you mentor and when should you coach?

Yes, there’s a difference!
Blog 193 When should you mentor

When we talk about coaching or mentoring people, the functions might seem similar, but believe us when we say that each one leads to a very different outcome. So, if you’re a leader thinking about how to get the best out of your people, make sure you know the role you’re playing.

Let’s start with mentoring. This is a nurturing, trusting relationship, where one person shares their experience and wisdom with another. Mentoring can help people feel supported, invested in and cared about – like they're walking away with some ideas and advice. It can be a comforting experience, knowing someone has gone through the same things you have, with the bonus that you can learn from their successes and mistakes.

Coaching, on the other hand, is about building capability and competence. Coaches don’t give advice – they ask great questions, reflect what they’re hearing, and then ask you to come back with a solution or goal. They might ask questions like: ‘What do you feel the solution is? If you were building a strategy, what would that look like? What do you think the bottom-line goal is?’ Coaches prod and poke, creating a dynamic environment for people to work out what they need to do, and then trust them to go away and do it.

Now that’s just mentoring and coaching (in a nutshell), but there are other leadership strategies, like managing and counselling that come into play, too. When you manage, for example, you typically take a more directive approach, telling people what to do to achieve a particular outcome. Compared with coaching or mentoring, this might be the quickest and easiest way to get a result, but it doesn’t build capability – it just achieves the result. There are a lot of great managers out in the world, but how many fantastic leaders do you know who're quite deliberate when they mentor or when they coach to get the result they want for an individual, as well as the broader organisation?

Next time you’re heading into a situation where you’re unsure whether it’s your coaching or mentoring skills that are needed, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want this person to leverage my personal experience?
  • Do I want this person to walk away feeling supported?
  • Do I want to invest in this person’s capability and confidence?
  • Do I want this person to be responsible for the results they're creating?

If you answered ‘yes’ to the first two points, the person you’re working with might benefit from some mentoring. If your goals are more aligned with the second two points, it’s time to put on your coaching hat and get those probing questions flowing.

– The Coach Place Global

Image by @amyhirschi

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