The Question is How: Coaching vs. Mentoring

Mar 01 2013 Published by under [Education&Careers]

Will Andy Reid use this technique with My Chiefs?(AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)(Credit: AP) Click to original posting.

Everyone agrees that traditional degrees do not provide all the skills necessary to succeed in any endeavor. We constantly learn new things from ongoing education and from colleagues. Mentoring has received the most attention. We may also have coaches, often individuals paid to guide our career issues. Mentors may be unaware that we consider them mentors. Coaches may be certified and making their living. What is the difference between a coach and a mentor? Is payment the issue?

In the January/February issue of PEJ (the Physician Executive Journal of the American College of Physician Executives) two academics with business backgrounds, Robert Hicks and John McCracken, address this issue first thing:

Mentoring is appropriate when the individual asks for the benefit of your experience or advice on what course of action she should take. Alternatively, a coaching response is called for when your colleague would be best served by arriving at her own conclusions about what she should do.

So mentoring is like a lecture, while coaching resembles an interactive problem solving session. To further clarify:

Coaching is the art and science of facilitating an individual's self-directed discovery and change. It's a collaborative activity designed to help a person think through a stituation with greater depth and clarity than they could do on their own, and come up with actionable goals to which they are willing to commit.

Their article focuses on coach-able moments, brief interactions in hallways or conference rooms. They call these "popcorn coaching" opportunities.

For example, a colleague states something they do not want - "I'm sick and tired of Dr. Smith condescending to me."

How do you take this statement from a mere complaint into an actionable goal? Such a goal must be stated in the positive, and it has to be under the person's control. Asking what the person wants may get a positive statement, but not something that this person can control, such as - "I want Dr. Smith to show me more consideration."

Let's face it, we all know a Dr. Smith. If external forces could have altered his/her behavior, it would have happened long ago.

At this point, a mentor might offer to chat with Dr. Smith or provide other advice. A coach instead asks what the colleague might do to improve the situation. What end-point would they like to see?

The situation requires no diagnosis, and this brief encounter will not cure the situation. The intent is to guide your colleague toward improvement of the situation through actions within their control.  It may take repeated versions of this question to get your colleague thinking in this direction; after all, Dr. Smith is the condescending jerk here.

I have been coaching for years, especially with my children. Until now, I just did not know it!

2 responses so far

  • This makes no fucken sense at all, at least in light of the most common meanings of those two words. A coach has the institutional power to tell someone being coached what to do. A mentor does not, and her influence is solely exhortatory.

  • becca says:

    Yeah, it's kind of backasswards with regard to my understandings of the words too. The distinction may be valuable, and the approaches important, but the semantics are off.

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