Mentoring vs Coaching and considering the mentoring anti-hero

I’m often approached for mentoring, and each request is very different in what people feel that they need. As a mentor,  it’s worth being precise on whether you need a coach or a mentor. I think carefully about who I’d like to be in the next five years, and who I would not like to be.

Coaches are more outcome based, and mentoring is more relationship based. Leaders grow through mentoring, as well as in other ways. Here’s a good definition: Coaches will help you to meet an outcome.

Mentorship is a much abused term. Specific to mentoring, Paul Randal offers a great perspective here

I have success in giving and receiving coaching by offering some exchange, and you may want to reflect on this point.  I do offer Executive Coaching professionally in conjunction with some of the Executive programs as part of the Ashridge Hult Business School, but that’s a professional arrangement.

Mentoring is longer-term, and the mentor gains as much from the experience as the mentee.  When I’m mentoring, people demand and expect a personal touch. Mentoring requires time. My suggestions and guidance will be richer and more relevant if I understand you well and understands your goals. And that takes time.

How can you get a mentor or a coach?

If you are looking for a coach, it is worth considering what you can give back. For example, one of my coaches is a marketing person with a great business head and as a form of barter, I help her with her Google Analytics data, and she has helped me with marketing.

Listening is an undervalued skill

If you are looking for a mentor, then it’s worth being clear on whether you are ready for being mentored. You will receive feedback that you may not like. If you are a short-term, quick win kind of person, that isn’t going to work for you and it will be perceived as inflammatory. Mentoring is not for you, if are the kind of person who isn’t going to listen – and listening is an undervalued skill. Coaching might be better until you are ready.

If you are the kind of person who makes excuses for their behaviour rather than reasons, this definitely isn’t for you. If you aren’t examining yourself closely, it squanders the mentor’s time to try to help you if all you want to do is change the world to see your point of view. I have previously walked away from mentoring requests because the person is difficult to deal with, so I don’t. I just back off, and direct my efforts where I can have more impact.

Asking great questions is an undervalued skill 

I have had different mentors at different times in my life, starting officially when I joined my first graduate job in 1997.

One of my first mentors was an amazing lady, an Operations Director who helped me to navigate being a young female in a very heavily male-dominated industry. There were not many women in Artificial Intelligence and there are times where I would have given up if it wasn’t for her. She asked great questions and I learned from her professional example. Despite not having seen her for over 15 years, her advice still rings in my head. AC – thank you.

I also learned a lot from my first boss, who had a similar background to me and who had worked his way up from being a support technician to C-suite. NB – thank you for your help over the years. We do not speak much now, but your words of wisdom still informs me today as I try to do what you achieved.

One of my current mentors is a great marketer, and he’s very good at drawing goals and objectives out of me. He’s got a real knack for asking great questions, and that’s a skill that is often overlooked. David – I look forward to seeing you soon and thank you for your words of wisdom.

The Mentoring Anti-Hero 

I have also learned from the people who I do not want to be like. I see behaviour which repels me, both professionally and in the technical and volunteer community. It has been a hard lesson, but I have learned to stand back and let others go their own path. Learning when not to mentor has been a crucial lesson for me. The best thing you can do is to stand back and let people show themselves for who they really are, and, in the end, you have to have faith that other people will see it.

What have I learned throughout this mentoring process?

Mentoring others, observing others and being mentored has taught me that one of the most valuable things is the impact that I can have on other people. Mentoring others allows me to reflect on other situations, and it is an area of growth for the mentor too. I also have to carefully consider my impact on others, because mentoring can have traumatic consequences for the mentee if it is not handled with empathy. I value reflexive leadership and I think that it is one of the areas for 21st century leadership.

I am still learning, and it is a lesson that I will always cherish even if it is painful sometimes.

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