This was the exasperated comment from a recently appointed mentee. He was a general manager who was experiencing the effects of good intentions. He was being over-supported. His employer had not worked out how, why and when to use mentoring and/or coaching. The outcome was an employee who was feeling under constant scrutiny and not given freedom, space and time to develop at his pace. To compound the problem, he also told me that he had discovered that his mentor and coach had called a meeting to discuss their different opinions on his development needs, and he wasn’t even invited!

I have noticed that employers who introduce mentoring often have a coaching provision in place, and usually the coaching provision is more embedded than the mentoring; it came first. Mentees often benefit from a coaching approach for some of their development needs. My view is that most good mentors will probably be doing some coaching in the meeting when the mentor sees that it is appropriate.

  • Can coaching work within the mentoring relationship?
  • Should it?
  • Should mentoring and coaching be separate activities?
  • Do the two ever conflict?

What are your experiences? I think it’s all about shoe size!

Think of mentoring as helping someone to grow into bigger shoes, to wear comfortably in the near future. This gives the mentor time to guide and advise the mentee on issues that will arise, but may not have yet. Coaching tends to focus on helping someone resolve a here-and-now issue or blockage for themselves. Think of coaching as helping someone comfortably wear big shoes, today.

They tend to overlap. Here’s my image for this:

Our exasperated general manager was being expected to grow into a new role, with all the new knowledge and skills that requires, whilst also hitting stretching performance targets for today, with all the pressure and uncertainty that this was bringing. I am finding that mentors no longer have the luxury of time to fully prepare their mentees for the future, they have to help them perform today. This brings them into the world of the coach.

Mentoring and coaching can be seen as styles, which do not always need a separate person. Here at EMEA campus of The Center for Creative Leadership we have trained over 70 mentors this year; what are they saying to us?

  • Mentors are now thinking of developing coaching skills to add to their repertoire of development skills.
  • Mentors recognise that mentoring skills overlaps with coaching skills, but that neither provides the full skill set on its own.
  • Mentors are also saying that it doesn’t always make sense to find another person to provide coaching, but mentors have to be sure about the limits to their role.
  • Mentors are saying that their limits as coaches are not just about time, but also about appropriateness, over-involvement and closeness, and skill.

My question to you is this – how do you make sure mentoring and coaching can co-exist and make sense for the employee? I expect you will say that clear roles and responsibilities are important. I also expect you will say that careful scrutiny of the reasons why someone needs, or asks for, a coach or mentor are important. So how is this working in reality? What tips would you give for making sure that mentoring and coaching solutions can co-exist?

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