Mentors or Coaches – Why You Need Both

by Sharlyn Lauby on November 18, 2012

Some of my best post ideas come from reader comments. Like this one:

I advocate having a mentor versus a coach. You may think they are one in the same but, in my world a mentor is someone YOU pick, a coach is someone that THEY pick.

I agree that mentors and coaches are two different things. Not sure if I completely agree the distinction is who chooses whom. Because managers can regularly coach their employees. In both situations, the people involved have to want to be in either the mentoring or coaching relationship. Otherwise, it’s a waste. This is also true when it’s a supervisor and subordinate relationship.

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On the other hand, I do realize that sometimes mentoring or coaching relationships are created without much of a selection process. When that happens, everyone involved is given the extra task of trying to build a relationship from a position of being “assigned” instead of “selected”.

I’ve always viewed the difference between mentoring and coaching being subject and process oriented.

Mentors are typically subject matter experts in the topic they are mentoring. Their method involves teaching and development. They are passing along their knowledge and skills.

Coaches are focused on listening, questioning and processes. Their methods focus on action plans, goals and accountability. They are helping someone achieve a goal that’s been set.

This doesn’t imply that one method is superior to another. In fact, it only heightens the importance of choosing the right one. Coaching might be best in situations where there’s a skills or knowledge gap but not a clear path to address it. Mentoring may be a good option when someone is confident about what they want to do but they need direction.

I can see where it might be helpful to have more than one mentor, depending upon what a person is trying to accomplish. Not sure about multiple coaches – since they are process oriented, wouldn’t that be confusing?

Let me know your thoughts on this. Are mentors and coaches the same thing?

Image courtesy of Robert Smith

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