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  • Ruth Dettman

Mentor or Coach? Don't feel left out in the cold while deciding!

Australia doesn't get cold, does it?

It was 1998 and I was packing to move from Canada to Australia. These were pre-internet days so all I had to mentally prepare myself was a paper (yes paper) map of Perth and the fact that there was a desert nearby.

Logically, I thought it would be hot. So I gave away all of my Canadian winter gear and showed up wearing (and packing) summer gear. I arrived in the middle of May. For those of you who are not from Australia, that is the DEAD of winter.

The first house I rented had no heating, no insulation as far as I could tell, and the local cats & dogs could easily have galloped through the cracks between the door frame and the front door.

I was cold. Colder than I have ever been in my life.

I clearly didn't have all the necessary information to make the right packing choices.

Lately, I have been hearing from people who are also wrestling with a lack of guidance. They are trying to decide whether they need a mentor or a coach. For them, the choice isn't as obvious as what to pack when planning to live in the desert or in a winter wonderland. It's much more subtle than that.

What's the difference between a mentor and a coach?

Let's start with definitions.

The Journal of Mentoring and Tutoring (yes, such a thing exists) describes a successful mentor as someone who makes themselves available for guidance and advice, who acts professionally, is resourceful, and who is consistent with their feedback.

The ICF, the global body representing professional coaches, defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential."

Clear as mud? Hmmmmm, no wonder I'm getting a lot of questions.

Let's get practical

In mentoring, you are looking for advice from the other person. You are looking for someone whose background is relevant to you, who has made (and learned from) mistakes, and who is ready and willing to pass all that gold to you.

In coaching, you are looking for insights that come from within yourself. You are looking for a coach who looks beneath the surface to draw out the best in you and to help you see your blind spots.

Which is better for you?

Still not sure? You're not alone.

In my experience, people simply have problems to solve. Can they classify their problems as a 'mentor' kind of problem or a 'coach' kind of problem? Probably not.

To be frank, both a mentor and a coach could be helpful to you. I could go on about how credentialed coaches must adhere to codes of conduct, be properly trained, adhere to confidentiality requirements etc, etc but this is where most people's eyes glaze over....they just want their problem solved.

The Warm Cuppa Tea method to solving problems

Here's a down-to-earth and uncomplicated way of approaching problems and knowing when you need a bit of outside help.

Step 1: DIY

This is often an overlooked step. Have you tried the most common sense solutions? For example, do you have a difficult work relationship? Have you tried the fantastic skill of curiosity to talk it through with the other person to see things from their perspective?

Step 2: Look to a mentor

Speak to your mentor, speak to trusted colleagues or bosses, check out the plethora of advice served up on Google.

For example, are you having trouble being heard at meetings? A mentor might offer some great suggestions on how they (or others) achieved that.

Have you come across some great advice but can't seem to implement? Go to step 3.

Step 3: Check out coaching

Coaching helps you dig below the surface to find out what might be holding you back from implementing fantastic advice.

Continuing the example above, if you find yourself holding back from speaking up in meetings, that’s a good example of a “coaching” kind of challenge.

What about a 2 for 1 deal?

Can you find someone who can do both? Sometimes. But proceed with caution. If a mentor is coaching you to go that deeper level, be mindful of their qualifications and whether confidentiality will be maintained.

If a coach is mentoring you, then you must trust that the coach adheres to their professional obligations, one of which is to make sure that you are setting the agenda and not them. As mentioned above, the best solutions for you might be different than what a mentor would offer.

Bottom line, sometimes you won't know what works for you until you try it. Sometimes you must show up in winter with only your t-shirts and shorts to realise that you don't have the right resources.

But by being methodical with your problem, you'll be wrapped up in your woolies, sipping your warm cuppa, and feeling better in no time at all!

Have you hit Step 3? Drop me a line and let's have an obligation free chat!


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