Coaching v Mentoring. A True North Leadership Perspective


Who comes to mind when you think of great coaches?

Vince Lombardi?

Casey Stengel?

Mike Krzyzewski?

What do they have in common, besides athletic success?

Who do you think of as exemplars of mentoring?

Steve Jobs? (he mentored Mark Zuckerberg)

Woody Guthrie? (he mentored Bob Dylan)

High School teacher (mentored Astronaut/Senator John Glenn)

Notice a difference? Simply put, a coach draws out while a mentor pours in. Both highly valued at different times or stages of a career. Both roles serve as what I often call, “Leading from the back.” Out of the limelight. Off stage. Empowering another. And often, anonymously.

These days the moniker “life coach” or “mentor” are often used synonymously. Mistaken as the same. But there are important differences that we’ll explore in this blog. Consider these:

Coaching v Mentoring

Task-based v Relationship focused

Performance driven v Personal development driven

Short term v Long term

Let’s define terms.

Coaching is a process of capacity development. Performance improvement is the goal. An “expert” provides specific guidance, direction and feedback. The coach’s M.O. is to ask thought-provoking questions that hopefully lead to intended answers. Often, assessments precede the intervention to determine specific areas of need. Assessments are also provided mid-course and upon completion of this time-bound process.

Mentoring is a human development activity in which a more experienced guide enters into an informal relationship and serves as a teacher, adviser, consultant, counselor. The mentee typically drives the agenda and asks the questions of the mentor. Often, a friendship results from mentoring that may last a lifetime.

Who has been a coach or mentor in your life? What contributions were made that still provide value and wisdom today?

If you are considering becoming a coach — guessing it’s because you want to help others and, as a side benefit, you believe your expertise can reap financial rewards. Or, becoming a mentor — no money there, but certainly opportunities for intrinsically rewarding relationships. If so, check yourself against these attributes.

A good mentor:

· Relishes the role. You’re enthusiastic about helping someone and you’re eager to help. You enjoy taking a personal interest in someone else’s growth and success.

· Is a lifelong learner. A mentor is not a “know-it-all” expert (that’s more the coach’s role). Your desire to be sponge-like, always growing and learning; should be a passion you pass along to your mentee.

· Is comfortable stepping out of their comfort zone, and then encouraging others on this journey of self- and professional discovery.

· Is a good communicator. They listen well. They process quickly and are able to provide essential feedback, leading their protégé to connect the dots effectively.

· Is high on the EQ (Emotional Intelligence) factor of empathy.

· Knows their field of expertise well. They’ve enjoyed successes and failures and learned from both. Knowledge + experience is a powerful formula to help others. And you’re more than willing to share those skills, knowledge and expertise.

A good coach:

· Is recognized as having a particular expertise. They are trained in it, they’ve lived it and are willing to share their experiences and knowledge.

· Is a good communicator. You may be called on to lead large group sessions or one-on-ones. Either way, you have the skills to engage audiences and impart meaningful, relevant and operationally positive information. And you do it all with clarity.

· Is non-judgmental. Your job is to direct others to performance success. And if they’ve found ways that work that are different than yours, be quick to evaluate and opine.

· Is honest. Integrous. And trustworthy. Demonstrate these qualities from the first encounter and your coaching relationship will be mutually rewarding.

· Has excellent analytical and feedback skills.

Now here are a few “secrets” to help coaches and mentors better engage with protégés they hope to help. The similarities here are strong enough that I’m not distinguishing between coaches and mentors. Apply liberally as needed.

· Ask great questions:

o Where do you want to be when our time ends?

o What will success look like for you?

o What might alternative outcomes look like?

o What are the greatest obstacles you face today?

o How do you react to those obstacles? To difficult people?

o What, in that process, do you actually control?

o What/who do you read? How much intentional learning do you seek?

o How do you hope to be different in a year? Three years? Five?

· Listen hard:

o Don’t only use your ears to hear; that’s a physical behavior.

o Understand. Empathize. Care. Analyze. Prescribe.

o Quiet your “self-talk” while listening. You know, that annoying habit we all have of formulating a response while the other person is still speaking.

o Put yourself in their place. Try to understand as many factors (as you can) that have led your protégé to this point of need or concern.

o True North leaders trust God’s Spirit to guide their listening and speaking.

That’s your secret weapon: Ask for His wisdom. It’s yours as a free gift that He doesn’t hoard.

The Spirit-empowered leader is always eager to help. And when you rehearse a brief list of coaches and mentors from Scripture, you find effective role models. From Jethro to Moses (Exodus 18) or Moses to Joshua, or Paul to Barnabas and Timothy, or Ambrose of Milan to Augustine of Hippo. Or, the ultimate of course, Jesus to His disciples and — by extension — to us we find the power of a caring and loving teacher.

Consider it your ministry. They did.

Norm Mintle