Understanding the history of mentoring is something that we ask course candidates to do as part of the pre-course work for our accredited Level 1 Mentor Training program as part of the International Certification for Mentoring. Questions that always surface are, what are the differences between coaching and mentoring and when would you use either one.
What I have found is that mentoring dates back in history to as far back as Homer’s Odyssey in ancient Greece. There are some publications that were done in the eighteenth century. These historical works link mentoring with cognitive development, emotional development, leadership and social integration, all of these being rooted in an experiential learning philosophy.
The term coaching appeared first in the English language in 1849 in a novel written in a setting in nineteenth century England. There does not appear to be additional literature or reference to coaching which would lead us to believe that it is a relatively new term in comparison to mentoring.
Coaching and mentoring are widely used terms in the business world today. Organizations look to coaching and mentoring for a number of reasons but the bottom line is focused on what is the actual business value. Can we see increased productivity and profitability if we invest the time and money in either program? The answer to this is “yes” if the right steps are taken to implementing either type of program.
To better understand how coaching and mentoring can demonstrate the business value we have been talking about let’s look at the difference between the two.
For a coach, the task at hand is most important. The coach has to help the person learn the requisite attitude, behavior and skills needed to perform the job successfully within the agreed success parameters. The task is therefore well defined and the conversation happens with a clear focus and specific timelines.
Mentoring focuses on the individual and the conversation transcends more broadly into the general work life. This means the interaction can be more philosophical, more focused on attitudes and behaviors than on specific skills. Of course, these talks could also have the same level of focus and timelines but the entire individual is the topic of discussion and exploration and not just a specific task. Coaching is about performance, mentoring is personal. So while it is appropriate and desirable for a person’s immediate supervisor to coach them, a mentor is best not to be in the direct reporting line.
Both mentoring and coaching have their use in the leadership interventions of organizations, but leaders need to be clear about what they are doing, what the other person needs, and what the situation needs.
Here are four (4) categories that you can take a look at and better understand the differences between the two:
Coaching: Coaching is task oriented. The focus is on concrete issues, such as managing more effectively, speaking more articulately, and learning how to think strategically. This requires a content expert (coach) who is capable of teaching the coaching candidate how to develop these skills.
Mentoring: Mentoring is relationship oriented. It seeks to provide a safe environment where the mentoree shares whatever issues affect his or her professional and personal success. Although specific learning goals or competencies may be used as a basis for creating the relationship, its focus goes beyond these areas to include things, such as work/life balance, self-confidence, self-perception, and how the personal influences the professional.
Coaching: Coaching can be short term. A coach can successfully be involved with a coaching candidate for a short period of time, maybe even just a few sessions. The coaching lasts for as long as is needed, depending on the purpose of the coaching relationship.
Mentoring: Mentoring is always long term. Mentoring, to be successful, requires time in which both partners can learn about one another and build a climate of trust that creates an environment in which the mentoree can feel secure in sharing the real issues that impact his or her success. Successful mentoring relationships can last nine months to a year or longer. I have some relationships that are past the one year time frame!
Coaching: Coaching is performance driven. The purpose of coaching is to improve the individual’s performance on the job. This involves either enhancing current skills or acquiring new skills. Once the coaching candidate successfully acquires the skills, the coach is no longer needed.
Mentoring: Mentoring is development driven. Its purpose is to develop the individual not only for the current job, but also for the future. This distinction differentiates the role of the immediate manager and that of the mentor. It also reduces the possibility of creating conflict between the employee’s manager and the mentor.
Category # 4:
Coaching: The coaching candidate’s immediate manager is a critical partner in coaching. She or he often provides the coach with feedback on areas in which his or her employee is in need of coaching. This coach uses this information to guide the coaching process
Mentoring: In mentoring, the immediate manager is indirectly involved. Although she or he may offer suggestions to the employee on how to best use the mentoring experience or may provide a recommendation to the matching committee on what would constitute a good match, the manager has no link to the mentor and they do not communicate at all during the mentoring relationship. This helps maintain the mentoring relationship’s integrity.
When would you consider coaching either as part of your organizational strategy to employee development or as an individual looking to grow?
- When a company is seeking to develop its employees in specific competencies using performance management tools and involving the immediate manager
- When a company has a number of talented employees who are not meeting expectations
- When a company is introducing a new system or program
- When a company has a small group of individuals (5-8) in need of increased competency in specific areas
- When a leader or executive needs assistance in acquiring a new skill as an additional responsibility
When would you consider mentoring either as part of your organizational strategy to employee development personally and professionally or as an individual looking to grow personally and professionally?
- When a company is seeking to develop its leaders or talent pool as part of succession planning
- When a company seeks to develop its diverse employees to remove barriers that hinder their success
- When a company seeks to more completely develop its employees in ways that are additional to the acquisition of specific skills/competencies
- When a company seeks to retain its internal expertise and experience residing in its baby boomer employees for future generations
- When a company wants to create a workforce that balances the professional and the personal
- When a company wants to create a work force that is engaged, empowered and accountable enabled through a mentoring culture
There are roles for each to play in your organization. Make sure that you understand what the outcomes are that you are striving for. There is a role for each and there is a hand off that can take place further validating the business value. Embrace the “power of mentoring” and realize the business value that it brings.