Throughout your career, you will encounter moments that will present great challenges and/or opportunities. Knowing what to do at those specific times depends on several things including experience, attitude, skills and capabilities, and the strength of your personal support network. As you grow personally and professionally, the complexity of these circumstances increases and may create anxiety as you determine your next steps. And while this is perfectly normal from a developmental standpoint, having a coach or a mentor by your side can make a huge difference in the quality of outcomes. Understanding the difference between the two is the first step to making the right selection.
Many people believe mentors and coaches are the same…interchangeable terms. But they’re not. Mentors are quite different from coaches. The key differences between the two are listed below:
- You select a coach, a mentor selects you. As such, mentor relationships tend to last for years, if not a lifetime. By the mentor selecting you, he or she is demonstrating their personal commitment and genuine desire to help with your personal development.
- Coaches focus on improving specific performance, usually on the job, while a mentor focuses on your overall development with a much greater focus on you, the person.
- Coaches interact through a formal structure, usually the same day and time each week – office hours. The session follows a certain flow or formula for the review and update on the items discussed in your last meeting. A mentor interacts as needed. They’re “on-call” and happy to be so. Less formal in nature, free-flowing, and very personal.
- Coaches tend to be “career-point-in-time” resources. Meaning, few coaches can provide value in all stages of someones career. A great high school football coach does not automatically equate to a great NFL coach simply because he understands the game of football. As the stakes grow higher in your career, you will need to find a coach whose skills are equally equipped for the circumstances you are encountering. The coach you had when you were 35, and in your first senior manager role, most likely will not be as effective for you when you are 45 in an executive role. In contrast, a mentor is always focused on the “broad YOU”, gathering deep and intimate knowledge of the real you, thereby allowing them to provide valuable insights and guidance in nearly any circumstance.
- Finally, and perhaps the biggest difference between a coach and mentor is how they are paid. Coaches, at least professional coaches, charge a fee for their service. These fees range anywhere from a few hundred dollars per session into the thousands depending upon the circumstances, and length and frequency of the engagement. A mentor has no fee. They’ve taken you under their wing. They have a personal connection with you and are committed to your development and success.
It’s important to understand that while different, there is a need to have both a coach and mentor in your life. Both play very different, yet important roles in your personal and professional development. Having a general understanding of your circumstance, time frame, and objectives will help guide your decision on selecting the right coach or mentor. I will visit specific benefits of coaches and mentors in upcoming blogs.