Coaching vs. mentorship
Mentorship and coaching have been intermingled for far too long, and we're getting to a point now where they're starting to divert. It's time to examine the differences.
Let's use Star Wars as a reference for a moment. Mentoring is the master/padawan relationship. You have Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan or Yoda and Luke Skywalker. There's one who has all of the knowledge and tries to transfer it onto the padawan who doesn't have any of the knowledge.
Mentorship works really well in controlled environments with a very specific outcome involved. The problem is, if I'm the mentor and you're the mentee, I'm forcing my context in telling stories to you in hopes you can contextualize it into your life. The agenda is mine, it's my experience and I'm thrusting it upon you.
It may or may not land for you.
Coaching is very different than that; it's co-creative. As a coach, your desires are my desires. I'm not telling you stories about my experience to understand yours. In coaching, I have a deep belief that you have the answers to the problems that face you and I'm helping you unpack those; I'm helping you talk about those; I'm helping you think about those.
I'm helping you take something that might be seen in your mind as a problem presently and try to then reframe it as: "How can this problem be reframed perhaps as a challenge?" And then as we start reframing this as a challenge: "How do we reframe this challenge as an opportunity?"
The mentor has the answers, the mentee learns. The coach does not have the answers. The idea is you have the answers; I'm just helping you discover them.
Availability is another difference between coaching and mentorship. There's not a "vending machine" – so to speak -- for mentors. That's the problem. It's very difficult to get a mentor if you want one. Coaches are very different; they are far more ubiquitous these days, especially in organizations.
If your mentor is specific to you learning the Force, you're going to have to go to the Jedi Temple. If there's no Jedi Temple near you, or the bus doesn't go that far out, then you're out of luck.
Coaching is valuable because it's transformative. All the research points to the fact that things like our dreams and our vision are critically important to our health, our success and our sense of purpose and value in life. This core idea, which is ancient (it goes back even further than the Greeks in a multiplicity of cultures) is of understanding yourself. It's critical because if you don't understand yourself, then you can't live in accordance with the values that you hold dear.
The real core component of that is people who are happy have an understanding of what their core values are and live in accordance with those core values. A coach is very deeply ensconced in that type of thinking. How do I, as a coach, help you understand what those core values are and give you a map to a world that allows you to live in accordance with those?
And if you can, that's where true happiness and fulfillment exists. For me, that's why coaching works and why it's transformational.
I call mentorship the "M word" in my classes because I feel like it distances people from understanding the real power of what coaching can be and it's not as effective.
Mentorship works really well for under-supported groups. Mentorship groups for underrepresented groups have been known to be very strong, but it's a very unique and succinct outcome expected, which is to help these groups navigate their way through a hierarchy of a corporation. That's very helpful. But outside of situations like this, which absolutely have their own value, it's not as effective as coaching.
This is about human transformation. Mentorship isn't in the game of human transformation, it's really teaching you the rules of the game to help you get through the game. And, as your mentor, I wouldn't even want you to play the game.
True transformation can come from coaching. And, in the end, that's the most important difference.
Want to hear more from John? Learn about coaching, succession planning, and managing high-maintenance employees at the Fisher Leadership Initiative Conference on March 24, 2020. Register here.
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