Ray Hebert, a brilliant business strategist, entrepreneurial coach and founder of the NuFocus Strategic Group shared with me that in a recent coaching relationship with his client, a successful business leader, the client expressed both great frustration with Hebert’s coaching style and gratitude for the professional development that was taking place. “My client was getting quite frustrated with my questions and kept wanting me to provide answers. I told them I was their coach not their mentor.”
Some struggle with the difference between coaching and mentoring and use the terms interchangeably; while the differences are blurry for some, I believe there are stark differences. Numerous professional coaching associations, institutes and certification programs assert that coaching is based on the premise that the coachee has the answers and the role of the coach is to help the individual clarify goals, muster resources and commit to a plan to make progress. At the core of the approach is the belief that effective questions are the coaches primary tool and subject matter expertise in the coachee’s discipline or profession is not needed.
Mentoring uses coaching techniques but often has as its explicit foundation that the mentor is a seasoned and experienced resource with greater knowledge and past experience in the given area of interest than the mentee. Contrary to the pure coaching method, a mentor will show a mentee the way, share personal experiences, offer solutions, open doors and act as a broker and champion. In both coaching and mentoring, professional or personal development is the primary objective.
Both approaches have their place. As millennials become the largest cohort in our workplaces, they bring with them the greatest expressed need for coaching and mentoring. Correspondingly more and more employers place enormous value on coaching competency when hiring and promoting people into supervisory and management roles. My observation is that managers and supervisors blur the line between coaching and mentoring or confuse the two.
Here a few thoughts on strengthening coaching capacity in a workplace setting and building your confidence as a coach as part of your leadership role.
1. Ask don’t tell. “Good to Great” author Jim Collins famously said “Lead with Questions not Answers”. In my experience this might be the most telling indicator of your coaching capability. You can even build in engagement strengthening feedback within well worded questions as a part of your coaching practice. Asking sticky questions can still be affirming. Example: “You have had great success on this file in the past by being very effective in your attention to the client’s needs; why do you think the client’s expectations were not met this time around?”
2. Respectfully and appropriately challenge people through your questions and assertions. Coaching conversations need to be forthright and need to challenge people’s assumptions and beliefs. Questions can be intentionally neutral, probing, leading, open, closed or seek to build accountability or secure commitment. All have their place, knowing when and how to use them is key.
3. One size coaching won’t cut it. While understanding that coaching is but one of many management approaches, managers and supervisors stand a greater chance of mobilizing others when they can draw upon different coaching styles depending on the issue at hand and especially based on the individual. Your coachee will benefit from your ability to adapt your coaching approach based on whether you are dealing with a performance or behavioural issue, coaching for potential and professional development or whether the coachee is pessimistic and defensive, lacks confidence or does not trust you. Your ability to alter your approach while staying true to effective coaching principles can make or break the effectiveness of your coaching efforts.
Whether you are looking for a coach or mentor, or looking to sharpen your coaching or mentoring skills, options abound locally, virtually and in print. And as I often mention to my workshop participants, you have likely benefited from some form of coaching or mentoring so keep it going by deliberately coaching or mentoring someone in your workplace, community or volunteer organisation. You will both benefit immensely.