Making the Most of Manager, Mentor, and Coaching Relationships

Three Wooden Cubes Displaying Question MarksI really like the quote from author and philosopher Eric Hoffer, “In times of change, learners inherit the earth while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists.” 

In today’s rapidly changing world we are all learners. And our busy lifestyles can make it hard to find the time for development. Three people that can help you succeed with your development plans are your boss, a mentor, or your own professional coach if you know how to employ each properly.

Each of these relationships is different by nature and all have their pros and cons.

Your Boss: In an ideal world your boss facilitates your ongoing development, assisting you to be as self-reliant in your role as possible. Many leaders offer this type of support and since they interact with you fairly frequently they have a sense of your development needs.

Unfortunately learning goals often take a back seat to the more pressing day-to-day objectives. Even the most well-meaning managers have to balance your needs with the needs of the organization. This dual focus—either consciously or unconsciously—can prejudice where they ask you to spend your time. Feedback can be a problem as many leaders are hesitant to provide negative feedback when you need to make significant changes.  Additionally, you may be less than willing to identify personal weaknesses when you are concerned how it might negatively impact a performance review.

To make this a more effective growth relationship think about where you want to stretch and grow.  Then think about how that growth would benefit not only you but your manager, your team, and your organization.  Share all this with your boss and ask for his or her thoughts, help, and support.

A Mentor: Establishing a relationship with a mentor—someone other than your boss—can remove some of the previous obstacles. Where a boss has organizational objectives to balance with your development, a mentor is someone who is focused solely on providing help and advice based on their past experience. Mentors serve as counselors and guides.

In my work as a coach, I have heard  many of my clients share stories of the positive impact mentors have had in their lives.  The only regret these clients mention is that they often find themselves hesitant to ask for more as the mentor is “gifting” what time they do give.

Here’s how to get the most out of this relationship. Think about what you most want to develop and where you think your mentor’s wealth of knowledge might specifically help.  Focus on one or two areas. Having this focus will help you and your mentor know how to best utilize their gift of time.

A Professional Coach: So what about a coach?  As you can imagine I am somewhat bias toward what a coach can do. Where a boss is a stakeholder, and a mentor is gifting their time, a professional coach is neither.  A coach is completely in service of your development.  They are not looking for you to take any action or path except for one of your own choosing. This allows the coach to be very curious about who you are and what you truly want.

Coaching clients can candidly share their aspirations, limitations and fears.  They see that the sole purpose of the relation is their own growth and learning.

Here’s how to get the most out of a coaching relationship. Just as with your boss or a mentor, target what you want to learn and develop.  This will make the time spent with a coach more impactful. Coaching requires your commitment of money, time, effort, vulnerability, etc. so thinking ahead about the path you want to take will help you get the most from your investment.    

Multiply Your Abilities

Focused growth and development doesn’t happen without effort and it usually doesn’t happen nearly as effectively when done on your own.  When thinking about your own continuous path as a learner, consider where and how your boss, a mentor or coach—or maybe all three—can support you so you can “inherit the earth.”

About the Author

Joanne Maynard is a senior coach with The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Coaching Services team.  Since 2000, Blanchard’s 130 coaches have worked with over 14,500 individuals in more than 250 companies throughout the world. Learn more at Blanchard Coaching Services. And check out Coaching Tuesday every week at Blanchard LeaderChat for ideas, research, and inspirations from the world of executive coaching.

3 thoughts on “Making the Most of Manager, Mentor, and Coaching Relationships

  1. This is a very informative post. I had a mentor when starting out and I am glad that I did. I still remember the knowledge that my mentor imparted into me. I am happy to say that I am now a mentor/coach to others looking to start their own businesses. My ideal mentor is Mark Hurd. I have been following the career of Mark Hurd for the last few years now, since he has taken over at Oracle. I have also been impressed with his leadership and ability to turn a company around. I have closely following his statements at OpenWorld 2016 and I am excited for what he has in store and I am looking forward to the direction that Oracle is heading in the next few years.

    • Thanks Blake for your thoughts. When we are trying to grow and develop [like developing how to be an effective mentor] it’s great to have a example to aspire to. Glad you have Mark Hurd as a role model.

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