by Dennis Roberts

Amid the confusion of coaching and mentoring there a basic question that might be asked and it is this, “Whose lesson are you learning?” Most clients I come across don’t draw a distinction between the two fields and quite frankly most don’t really care if there is a difference. That said I have been on both the coaching and mentoring panels of one organisation and I’ll share this with you - mentors often get paid more.

The argument put forward by mentoring groups is that you must have a pool of experience, generally senior executive experience, and lots of it. Largely considered the domain of greybeards it is possible the last bastion of the old boys club.  When you engage a mentor the expectation is that you are paying for their experience. And there may be substantial economic value in that aforesaid experience. Now ask the question!

“Whose lesson am I learning?”

The real value of having a mentor is that you learn YOUR lesson. It has nothing to do with you learning the mentor’s lesson unless there is some transfer of knowledge that benefits you. Otherwise you would just as well be served talking with your grandfather.

Mentors can give you a perspective on life’s events that maybe outside your current paradigm of thinking. That is a knowledge transfer. Valuable. 

Mentors can give you lessons and insights into how to navigate your way through a tough situation like a recession. It will only be relevant to the extent that there is something transferable. Learning how tough your grandfather had it during the Great Depression may give insight into his character but may not give you clues as to whether to lay off staff, cut costs or refinance your business.

Coaching v Mentoring

The best description I ever heard of the differences in modalities is that a coach is someone you learn WITH whereas a mentor is someone you learn FROM.

One of the most clichéd examples is of sporting coaches. Many sporting teams still subscribe to the belief that you engage a coach who knows how to play the game. I don’t subscribe to this view. In much the same way a top gun sales person doesn’t necessarily make a good national sales manager, a successful player doesn’t necessarily make a great coach. They are very different skill sets.

The growing popularity of sports science now adds considerable weight to this argument.

Who has the intellectual property?

There is a distinction that needs to be made between a business proprietor and an entrepreneur. At the heart of it an entrepreneur comes up with the big idea and the vision for the business. The much vaunted entrepreneurial spirit is literally the seeding of an idea. From nothing arises something.

A growing number of businesses are franchise business systems. The conception of the idea, the entrepreneurial spirit, the spark of life is vested in the creator – the franchisor. The franchisee or licensee is a carbon copy of the original. There is nothing wrong with that, it is what it is.

The same is true for business coaches. Many are licensees or accredited agents for a brand or a methodology. Stick within the confines of the cookie cutter system and you are fine. Stray outside the parameters for innovation, reinvention and new paradigms of creative thinking and you are in unchartered waters.

The real thought leadership is with the person who developed the IP. And perhaps that is where the difference in coaching and mentoring fees can be traced.

Here’s three things for you to do today:

1.       Make sure you are learning your lesson. If the lesson doesn’t appear relevant it may be that it’s outside your current paradigm of thinking. It may be relevant but maybe you can’t see how just yet. So ask, “How is this relevant to me?” … and keep on asking.

2.       If there is a circumstance that someone has successfully navigated and it’s a path you want to explore look for a mentor. Circumstances like an economic recession, start-up, merger or acquisition, downsizing, strategic exit, private equity raising, spill of the board, etc.

3.       If you simply want someone to hold you accountable for your actions then choose a coach. It may work just as a personal trainer. A little guidance, some objectivity, fresh eyes and enthusiasm.

by Dennis Roberts

I don’t know about you but I’ve been associated with over a dozen coaching and mentoring groups over the past ten years and they all have a different perspective and self-interest about the two modalities. What gets even more confusing is the fusion of different modalities from what I view as peripheral fields as they attempt to cash in on the hype that is coaching.

So, if I’m confused then I’m guessing it is not only confusing to you, the user, but also that this confusion may serve as a deterrent to you choosing the right coach or mentor for you.

Coaching, mentoring and consulting

Here is a quick distinction. A mentor is someone you learn FROM. A coach is someone you learn WITH, and a consultant well, for the most part a consultant’s gig is to deliver you the results that you might otherwise learn from either coach or mentor. The consultant is engaged to “do the do.”

“A mentor is someone you learn FROM.
A coach is someone you learn WITH.”

The mentor is often described as someone who has “been there, done that” whereas a coach’s main mission is to facilitate your own self-discovery. A coach will ask more than they answer.

The key to effective mentoring is the mentor’s ability to transfer his knowledge, wisdom and insight such that his lessons benefit the mentee. “I’ve been there, done that” is only useful to the extent that it relates to the mentee’s lesson of the day.

I’ll illustrate the differences in coaching, mentoring and consulting with a brief conversation/ case study.

Client asks “My sales are down, I’ve just lost a key account and the leads from my pipeline have slowed. What should I do?”

COACH answers: “What do you think you should do? What have you done previously in a similar situation?”

MENTOR answers: “Well, once my business took a hit when our industry was deregulated. What worked for me is that we compiled a database of past clients and began a campaign designed to reconnect with them offering an inducement to re-engage with us. Would something like that work for you?”

CONSULTANT answers: “Let’s do a quick diagnostic check of your current situation, identify where the gaps are and come up with a proposal to address your issues. If our proposal meets with your approval and your budget then we could start work within four weeks.”

There are basic three paths to implementing change:

·         Do It Yourself (DIY),

·         Done With You (DWY) like a coach or mentor, or

·         Done For You (DFY) by a consultant.

There is a fourth option, of course, and that is the Do Nothing option. Don’t ring me for that one!

At the outset of any engagement be sure to ask, “Who will do the work?”

When should I choose a coach v mentor?

There are some urban myths about mentoring that need to be dispelled. The major one is “You need to have grey hair to be a mentor.” Bollocks! The key to being a successful mentor is your ability to impart your knowledge, wisdom and experience to the mentee. My lesson is not your lesson. My story is just a metaphor, and as the mentee, you will find your own truth in my story. This is more an art than science.

“My lesson is not your lesson.”

Here are five situations where I recommend you seek a MENTOR rather than a coach.

1.       Starting a Business – are you searching for a map of territory trodden previously by another (Mentor) or is your journey into completely uncharted territory where a compass would serve you (Coach).
If your business/ leadership skills are lacking then by engaging a Mentor you can fast track your learning providing there are close parallels between your lesson and your Mentor’s knowledge, skills or experience.
80% of businesses fail in the first year. This is science. This is fact. There is a map of this territory and your Mentor may have it.

2.       Economic recession – this is an economic cycle, and cycles do what cycles do, ie they repeat.  A Mentor with past experience of economic cycles and how to ride them out, take corrective action, cut costs, lay off staff, down size, eliminate non-core activities, refinance your business, etc is invaluable. 
There are two big caveats to these comments and they are China and the internet. These two powerhouse influences may mean that we need a compass not a map. Keep that in mind. If you experienced difficulties during the tech wreck, global financial crisis (GFC), or the stock market crash of the 1980’s, there are wise heads who have navigated their way out of similar cycles. Until recently many young Australian entrepreneurs had not seen heavy rain let alone an economic recession.

3.       Crisis recovery – is the mantra “been there, done that” likely to give you comfort and afford you a solution to your challenge. If someone else’s lesson has parallels for you, and your lesson, then choose a Mentor. You may need to draw a long bow to find the parallels but it’s not the facts that are relevant but more the mental attitude, resilience, temperament or even simply an objective opinion. I used to love listening to my Grandfather’s stories of a bygone era. It tapped my creative mind, let lose my imagination and opened my heart to empathy.

4.       Merger & Acquisition – there are two ways to grow a business, either organically or by acquisition. M&A is such a highly technical field that calling upon specialist help is highly desirable. There is a fair chance you will have a team of professional advisors working on the deal but a Mentor can offer you comfort in ways that professional advisors may not.

5.       The After Life – when you exit a long term business, career or relationship your whole world gets turned upside down. Some of life events are best shared with someone that doesn’t just have empathy but shares that special bond, that kinship, you won’t find in other relationships. A Mentor is not a hard arse but will, where occasion warrants, both support and challenge you. The art is finding the delicate balance between the two roles and reading what you need at any given moment.

Here are five situations where I recommend you seek a COACH rather than a mentor.

1.       Greenfields territory – The analogy of the map and the compass I used earlier is a great distinction. When you are entering completely unchartered territory the questions you ask may be more inductive than deductive. A Coach can facilitate your self-discovery, this exploration of the brave new world.

2.       The deeper question of WHY? – Many people get stuck with HOW TO questions. Yet if you explore your raison d‘etre much of the detail becomes evident. A Coach may draw you into a deeper dialogue with self. Once you answer the question, “WHY do you do what you do?” you have a context to answer all other questions. You are no longer operating in a vacuum but in a larger hologram where everything is inter-connected. It is an extremely powerful to place from which to play life.

3.       Use of diagnostic tools – Coaches have access to a wide range of diagnostic tools from personality profiles, leadership inventory, behavioural type indicators, entrepreneurial profiles, communication style and many Business Coaches have access to a wide array of business diagnostic tools and indicators also. Make sure you know the scope of your coach. Many coaches are trained from schools of psychology with little or no business acumen.

4.       Business Acumen – if you are looking for a Business Coach then know this - the quality of your/their questions will determine the quality of your (business) life. Assess the level of business acumen your coach/ mentor possesses regardless of whether they have “been there, done that.” Business is a game. It has its rules, language, success measures, strategies, formulas, structures and whether Coach or Mentor your guide must know the game, how it is played and how you can win.

5.       Accountability – in a world of procrastinators the principal benefit of a Coach is accountability. You can have the best laid plans, greatest intent, all of the wisdom of Solomon but if you don’t implement then it amounts to nought.

There you have it. This is one man’s opinion and I am sure you will find many others. When you do get divergent opinion, do yourself a favour, and ask does the critic have a vested opinion, and if so, what is it?

I hope you enjoyed the article. Please check out other blogs/ articles I have written and feel free to post your comments and queries and if there is something I can help you with drop me a line. 

by Dennis Roberts