5 Key Differences Between Mentoring and Coaching

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When we hear the word “mentoring”, we may relate it to some activities that we usually see in coaching events. However, mentoring and coaching are essentially different concepts that aim to have very different type of impacts on people, despite the fact that they often use the same type of approach and skills.

Since it may be hard to know when we are talking about mentoring or coaching, in this article, Suzzanne Uhland will talk about five key differences between mentoring and coaching that can help readers have a better understanding of both concepts and decide which one could work better for its company.

  1. Orientation

Mentoring focuses on relationships. This means that it aims to allow the mentee to know itself in order to help it feel safe within any given environment. Mentoring is oriented to specific goals related to personal skills and goals, such as having a more balanced life, building self- confidence, improving self- perception or understanding how the personal life can affect an individual in its working environment.

On the other hand, coaching focuses on the task. It is a great way for people to identify what they are lacking and work hard to improve it. This way coaching can help people become more efficient, thinking strategically, or giving more accurate information to others. In this sense, the coach’s job is to teach the coachee how to build up or improve a set of skills in order to take care of specific tasks in a better way.

  1. Short Term Vs. Long Term

Mentoring is understood as a long-term relationship between the mentor, the mentee and their context. It requires that all the involved parties can learn about each other because this will help them improve their environment and create bonds of trust between one another. To mentoring it is highly important for all the parties to feel safe, this is why building a good mentoring relationship can take up to a year to be built.

On the contrary, coaching cares about taking place for as long as it is needed. Usually, it is divided into a set of sessions that take place in a short period of time. The success of a coach is measured by its impact in a short period of time. It is important to keep in mind that everything depends on the kind of issue that is being addressed by the coach and the relationship between it and its coachee.

  1. Development Vs. Performance

Mentoring is interested in the individual’s development. This means that aims to have a deep impact on the way the person is structured. This impact should last for long period of time, affecting the future of the mentee in a positive way. This characteristic helps to improve the relationship between the manager and the employee who is being mentored because roles are defined in a better way and have a purpose in time.

Coaching, on the other side, aims to improve the coachee’s performance. This means that it is focused on the way things are being done today. Its main goal is to improve the individual’s current skills. When these skills are correctly improved, the coach’s job is over.

Related: What Can Mentoring Do For Me And My Career?

  1. Required Design

Mentoring is tailor-made. It requires the implementation of a design phase where a strategic purpose can be drawn. As it focuses on relationships, the used model may vary from one individual to another. Plus, not every mentor is meant to meet every mentee. Thanks to this, a matching process is also required.

As coaching about any matter can be conducted right away, it doesn’t require a design. This is why coaching events can take place anywhere at any time and include large groups of people at the same time. In a way, the only design coaching needs take place when identifying which area is going to be treated and the level of expertise that is needed in order to have the right tools to have an impact on the coachees.

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  1. Immediate Manager

Mentoring immediate manager is indirectly involved with the mentoring process. Most of the times the manager has little to do with the mentoring experience. It gives a freeway to the mentor so it can build a relationship with the mentee. However, when it is required, the manager may suggest some matches and give a few recommendations during the process.

The way coaching works require the manager to work hand-in-hand with the coachee. This happens because the manager is the one who is supposed to give both the coach and the coachee feedback on their results. This way, specific problems related to particular tasks can be addressed. The coach needs the manager’s input to know how the coaching process is evolving and the things that could be improved about it.

Some good tips to manage a mentoring relationship

We have already seen many definitions for mentoring and we have seen many types of programs and approaches to mentoring. We don’t have to go again at those definitions. Instead, this time we will focus on the relationship mentee and mentors have and how this relation can be managed.

It is not only about a contract or having some kind of agreement but also about understanding the goals and the objectives that the mentors have for their mentees and what mentees expect from their mentors.

Suzzanne Uhland has compiled some very useful tips that give the readers some pointers on what are the terms that every mentoring relationship should have so mentors, mentees, and companies that use such programs understand and get the most out of their programs.  

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The first meeting

This is comparable to the first impression and the saying “there is only one chance to make a first impression”. Here the mentor and the mentee should meet each other and be very open about all the topics and about their own backgrounds and experiences. The idea with this first encounter is to know each other and to build that much-needed trust that will be the keystone for everything during the mentoring relationship. Some of the topics that are recommended to be discussed by mentor and mentee are the objectives and expectations of the relationship; what will the responsibilities be and what will the time commitments be; a place and schedule for the meetings; how confidential information will be treated and what will the limits be to conversations and topics;  which obstacles could arise and how to deal with them; and the terms to end the relationship.

The objectives and expectations of the relationship

Here the mentee´s goals are of most importance. The mentor should treat this information with a lot of commitment because here is where he or she can understand where the relationship will go. The goals should be specific, attainable and measurable. Going down to reality, the mentees sometimes don’t know where they are going exactly or have goals that are either too crazy or too short. Here the mentor can push the mentee to get out of his or her comfort zone and make the mentee think outside of the box and look for bigger and more ambitious goals. After this, the mentor should take a good look and see if he or she can really help the mentee on reaching such goals. This will prevent one of the most common reasons that mentoring programs fail which is a mismatch of mentor and mentee. Then, if there is a match, the mentor and mentee should discuss how these goals are going to be met.

A topic that mentors should avoid is talking about how expectations could fail or how their personalities could clash in the future of the relationship.  If there is chemistry the relationship should start and make changes as they go because if there is empathy on both sides any problem can be solved and learned from.

The limits

It may sound similar to a couple who negotiates times and hours for their own space, but it is absolutely necessary. The goals and objectives should be set and the boundaries for them should be discussed as well. Mentor and mentee have to be very clear on what limits would the relationship have because often people become too friendly or they use more time for the relationship than it is expected affecting other activities for the mentor or the mentee. Other problem that could arise are the questions on how to handle a difficult member of the board or the company; concerns about the strategic approach that the company has; and personal issues that are not the mentor´s job to handle. In many firms, a different mentor that has nothing to do with the mentee or is not within his group is assigned to the mentee in order to deal with personal issues and to not lose the ability to have a full and open disclosure.  Some of the common limits that firms set for a mentor – mentee relationship are: that the mentor gets involved in issues that require dispute resolution; using the relationship for direct career advancement, and talking about money or having an economic relationship.

Confidentiality and conflicts

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This stage is delicate and should be managed correctly by the mentor. Of course, a lot of information that is confidential will come up in the conversations but there has to be an agreement on which is useful for the relationship and which information is just part of the conversation itself and not part of the program. If the lawyers are from different firms, for example, they should know and understand the Rules of Professional Conduct and abide by them.

Be sure to also read this post about the advantages of mentoring in the law profession.

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