Do I Need a Mentor or a Coach?
Most people accept that ongoing personal and professional development is essential for success in any kind of work role. In many cases, mentoring or coaching is suggested as a way to obtain valuable personalised learning and growth. This section discusses how to determine if you need a mentor or coach and the distinctions between mentoring, coaching and supervision.
The Advantages of Mentoring and Coaching
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Many successful people identify mentors or coaches who assisted their development. This is because both:
- Provide one-to-one interaction to achieve personalised learning and growth;
- Cater to individual needs, personal styles and time constraints;
- Can be conducted face to face or from remote locations;
- Complement formal training and educational experiences;
- Process real-life issues, problems and decisions;
- Facilitate access to information and choices about new behaviours and actions;
- Support the achievement of positive outcomes.
Mentoring and coaching are not a substitute for training and education, nor do they take over the supervisor's responsibility for performance management. Rather, a mentor or coach supports the individual development process.
Individual Development Needs
A development need may be defined as a gap between where you are and where you want to be, that may be closed by acquiring knowledge and skills that increase ability.
The motivation for development may be:
- Self-satisfaction: fulfil desire for learning and growth
- Job requirements: changes in functions, procedures, technology etc.
- Performance improvement: when self-assessment, or appraisal by others, indicates a need for adjustment.
- Career enhancement: increase opportunities for career satisfaction or progression.
Mentoring and coaching complement development strategies such as:
- Formal education;
- On-line or packaged training materials;
- Training courses;
- On-the-job training; and
- Self-directed learning.
How does the mentor role differ to the role of the supervisor/manager?
Both mentor and supervisor/manager are interested in, and responsible for, the development of staff, but the roles are quite different.
The supervisor/manager is responsible for setting work, ensuring that objectives and targets are achieved, facilitating the staff member's professional development and for appraising performance. They are responsible for ensuring that staff are supported throughout the whole of the employee life cycle.
Supervisors/managers partner with staff in the process of creating individual career and development plans. By doing so, they have the opportunity to help staff define their specific needs and identify the best person or people who might be suitable and willing to serve as mentors and coaches.
The mentor has a different role to play in staff development giving individual staff access to someone with skills, experience and knowledge in an area that will assist them to reach their full potential in terms of their development plan.
Mentoring and Coaching – Recognising the Difference
Different people have different ideas about what mentoring and coaching are; what one calls mentoring, another may call coaching.
The term mentor comes from the Latin word ‘mentore’, which means “to be like”. A great mentor imparts wisdom and shares knowledge with a less experienced colleague, often able to direct their mentee to relevant resources, while a coach does not have to be a master in their area of expertise.
Workplace mentoring may be used to support career development, onboarding or integration into a new role or organisation and skill development; in contrast to performance coaching, the sort of intervention that focuses on a person’s ability to do their job.
Mentors and coaches use very similar skills and the roles may sometimes merge. Rapport, trust, respect, communication, observation, and feedback are features of both. Guidance and advice may be offered and practical rather than theoretical solutions to challenges are sought.
What is important in working with a mentor or coach is negotiating the scope and style of the relationship from the outset.
Distinctions Performance Coaching/Mentoring for Development and Supervision/ Management
The table below shows some of the distinctions between each activity.
|Helps facilitate a culture of growth and development within the organisation||Helps coachee to assess and implement plans to improve performance in a particular area||Determines job responsibilities/work objectives, supervises performance and assists development|
|Can use power and influence to help a mentee||The relationship is what holds the power and connection between the two.||Is in a position of authority over the individual by dint of role held|
|Agrees to take on the role of mentor either formally through a mentoring program or informally||Agrees to take on the role of coach either formally or informally||Acts as an agent of the University with legal responsibilities and obligations|
|Occurs outside the supervisor/manager-staff relationship||Takes place within the confines of a professional work based relationship||The interest of the relationship is functional, arising from the need for individuals to perform to the best of their ability|
|Concentrates on the individual’s development needs and goals based on his/her career aspirations||Concentrates on identified issues with clear objectives to develop specific skills and behaviours||Supports the achievement of business objectives and targets through the Performance Development Process.|
|Provides the context of knowledge, assistance and advice based on the mentor’s subjective experience, having ‘been there, done that’||Provides the process to facilitate and elicit learning from the coachee so they can objectively explore their own learning and behaviour||Provides the framework to enable development and career planning on within the University|
|Mutually benefits both the mentor and mentee||Focus is more on the person being coached||Mutually benefits the staff member, supervisor/ manager and the University|
|Reflection emphasis||Action orientated||Outcomes orientated|
When to Choose a Mentor/ When to Choose a Coach
If your development need requires a personalised approach, you must decide whether mentoring or coaching is more appropriate for you.
Find a Mentor when you want to discuss broad career issues, seek general guidance, or need to clarify development goals, plan your future direction, make decisions or solve problems for yourself.
Get a Coach when you have a well-defined goal that is based on improving specific skills and performance in your current role or needing help to define what it is you want to improve.
A direct supervisor may coach you because they have a responsibility for performance development. However, mentoring is usually ‘off-line’. The mentor is not someone above you in a direct line of authority. It could be a peer, or someone more or less senior, within or outside your workplace.
A mentor may provide input that supervisors do not or should not. For example, a mentor might discuss topics unrelated to the supervisor’s duties, or that would be inappropriate for a supervisor to broach. Conversely a mentor should not encroach on the staff/supervisor relationship or operational activities.