Six Tips for Choosing a Mentor, or a Coach, or Both!

teaching, training, coaching  and mentoring - a collage of isolaThis Coaching Tuesday guest post is by Judith Donin.

I recently found myself sitting beside a young entrepreneur on a flight, and we started chatting. His business was at a crossroads and he was seeking a mentor for help getting unstuck. When he noticed my study books, the topic turned to coaching. Then he asked me an interesting question: “What’s the difference between a coach and a mentor?” Since that conversation, I have spent many hours thinking about the differences between these two roles and the benefits of each in our lives.

Here are my thoughts:

A mentor…

  • has pretty much walked in your shoes and can give you the benefit of their experience;
  • can teach you unwritten rules and norms;
  • often works in the same industry as you do, so there’s a perceived contextual understanding; and
  • has useful contacts they can introduce you to.

A mentor can tell you what to do when you don’t know. But your mentor is not you—and a mentor may urge you to follow a path that isn’t one you would normally choose.

A qualified coach…

  • follows a process within your conversation to help you draw out your own thinking;
  • has no attachment to the outcome—only a goal that you achieve your aspirations;
  • has the skills to really listen to you—and pays attention to both verbal and nonverbal communication;
  • dares to challenge you and ask questions that others may be unwilling or afraid to ask; and
  • gives you a sense that your psychological needs are being met (Autonomy, Relatedness, and Competence).

But a coach will not tell you what to do. Instead, a coach will allow you to you discover the answer for yourself.

So what is best for you?  I’d like for you to consider the possibility of both. My career never felt as balanced and productive as when I had both a coach and a mentor—each playing a separate role. Here are my top six tips to follow when seeking both:

When choosing a mentor:

  • Ideally, find someone in the same organization—they will be able to teach you how things get done.
  • Select someone you admire who has credibility in your organization.
  • Select someone who has a sense of your role; ideally, someone who has been in your role or very close to it.
  • Select someone you can serve in turn. Think creatively here—does the person yearn to have exposure in your region? Could you read and comment on their research?

When choosing a coach:

  • Ideally, select someone outside your industry. You are looking for an outsider’s perspective.
  • Select someone you know will be straight with you and use language you will understand and respect.

Make 2016 the year you choose a personal team that will help you achieve your goals and aspirations. Looking for someone to show you the ropes? Consider a mentor who can point the way. Looking for someone to bring out the brilliance already inside you? A coach may be the answer—someone who is trained to listen judgment free and to ask, not tell. Whatever path you choose—or both—you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish with the help of people who care.

PS: In case you were wondering about the entrepreneur, he succeeded in getting unstuck. As it turned out, he had the answers within. We had a 20-minute coaching session as the plane descended

About the author

Judith DoninJudith Donin is a senior consulting partner, executive coach, and professional services mentor for North America with The Ken Blanchard Companies.

Leave a Reply