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Having a Mentor and a Coach Is Better Than Having One or the Other
Someone who reaches a leadership position after having been effectively mentored is likely to credit mentoring – at least in part – for this achievement.
An excellent mentor is worth their weight in gold.
But mentoring may not prepare a person for all the demands of leadership. Leadership coaches frequently work with leaders who have had influential mentors (and who may now mentor junior professionals themselves).
As career development goes, having both a mentor and a coach is a great combination for sustained success. Mentors and coaches operate differently from one another, but their skills can be wonderfully complementary. Here’s why having both a mentor and a coach is significantly better than having only one of the two.
Mentoring: Less Structured, More Long-Term
Some companies, realizing the tremendous worth of mentors, implement formal mentoring programs to assign senior professionals as mentors to newer or younger ones. This can work as long as all parties are agreeable. Forcing a senior professional to be a mentor when they really don’t want to be one probably won’t benefit anyone.
Mentors don’t have to be formally assigned, however. Some people meet mentors through professional networking. Others may meet mentors through alumni programs at their school, or simply by “clicking” with a more experienced staff member at their own organization.
Mentoring is less about skill-building than about the transfer of knowledge and wisdom. For example, a mentor within a person’s own company may offer tremendously valuable information about why certain things are done in certain ways. They may also pass along the knowledge that isn’t recorded in any company manual, thus helping preserve the continuity of excellence when they leave or retire.
Coaching: Solution-Oriented, Defined Term
Companies also realize the value of leadership coaching. Unlike mentoring, coaching is usually an assigned partnership (after both parties agree that they work together well), and it typically has a beginning and ending date, with several milestones along the way.
Coaching generally has a time frame measured in months, but the results can last throughout a career.
A coach may or may not have experience in the same industry as the client, but most coaches do have extensive business and leadership experience. Coaching isn’t about passing along wisdom, but about addressing shortcomings and strengthening clients’ strengths further. This is done after initial assessment and discussion with the client, and with a custom “roadmap” for achieving the desired outcomes.
Though some companies have trained, internal coaches, many companies hire coaches from outside on a contract basis. The “fit” between coach and client is tremendously important for success. In other words, the coach that worked well with the Vice President for Finance last year may not be the right coach for the new Vice President for Technology.
The Power of Mentoring Plus Coaching
The combination of mentoring and coaching can be likened to creating reinforcements that help professionals withstand the slings and arrows of success and thrive despite them. Say you’re building a structure in a hurricane zone. The site placement can minimize the power of winds, while the use of reinforced materials contributes further to structural fortitude. Mentoring and coaching likewise strengthen different professional dimensions.
A great mentor can help emerging leaders orient themselves and their attitudes in ways that will aid success. A great coach can then help close skills gaps and strengthen existing skills so that the work done with a mentor is further enhanced.
Leadership coaching is becoming a more common capstone to the long process of leadership development. Most coaches would agree that clients who have benefited from having an outstanding mentor are better prepared for working with a coach. Don’t dismiss mentoring as an “extra” in the road to professional excellence. A great mentor can be invaluable, as many people can attest.
And if you have the opportunity to work with a leadership coach, consider it proof that you are highly valued, and that your organization considers you well worth the investment. Mentoring alone can be priceless, but when it’s complemented by coaching, the outcomes can be beyond what anyone imagined.