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Coaching vs. Mentoring: Do you know the difference?

How do leaders know when it’s time to coach and when mentoring is more appropriate?

Good question.

I had the privilege of sitting on a panel at an event entitled ‘Inspiring Mentors, Connecting New Brunswick’ last week. The event was sponsored by The Financial and Consumer Services Commission and, given the capacity attendance, was hitting on a hot topic – the importance of mentorship to businesses, communities and individuals.

fullsail SpeakersI jumped at the opportunity to be part of the conversation – our mandate at Vision Coaching is to help educate the business community – and leaders – on what coaching is and how it both compliments and differs from mentoring.

We’ve found the most effective way to educate leaders is to have them participate in an interactive workshop where they see demonstrations of – and ultimately experience – coaching and mentorship skills. These workshops quickly highlight the power of both mentoring and coaching when used properly.

So, let’s get back to the big question – when should you be coaching and when does it make more sense to mentor? Consider these two different scenarios where an employee is looking for help…

Scenario 1: An employee is looking for advice and/or the leader’s knowledge in a particular area (e.g. ‘What skills and education are required to become a managing partner within the law firm?’). This can be a fabulous opportunity to put on your mentor hat. A mentor’s job is to offer guidance and wisdom based on your own experiences, knowledge and achievements.

Scenario 2: An employee is looking for help to perform their current job more effectively. This can be a great coaching opportunity. The job of the ‘leader as coach’ is to listen and ask questions to help the employee set their own goals, find the solution and define the path forward.

Here are some additional distinctions between ‘Leader as Mentor’ and ‘Leader as Coach’ that we highlight in our Using Coaching to Lead™ workshop:

Leader as Mentor versus Leader as Coach

A leader as mentor will often lead with sharing what they think.
A leader as coach will first evoke their employee’s own thinking.

A leader as mentor relationship can be hierarchal.
A leader as coach relationship is held as equal partnering.

A leader as mentor will often share their experiences and knowledge.
A leader as coach will tap into the employee’s experiences and knowledge.

A leader as mentor provides resources.
A leader as coach first evokes their employee’s own resourcefulness.

A question for you the next time someone solicits your help: Will you put on your mentor hat or your coach hat?

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Dave Veale is a leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or via Twitter@Dave_Veale.