“Executive Coach” and “Mentor” are two words that are often interchanged, and while both are important in an individual’s professional growth and development, they are different roles.
Executive Coaching is defined as “a helping relationship formed between a client who has managerial responsibility in an organization and a coach who uses a wide variety of behavioral techniques and methods to help the client achieve a mutually identified set of goals to improve their performance.”
Mentorship is defined as “a protected relationship in which a more knowledgeable or experienced person guides and nurtures the professional development or growth of another, outside the normal manager/subordinate line management.”
Executive coaching starts from the position of nondirective asking, as opposed to telling, using inquiry-based conversations with an intent to enhance self-awareness and co-create new pathways to resolve issues. It is not necessary for the coach to understand the nuances of a specific industry or business, nor the specific role of their client, as coaching focuses on individual supported self-learning. A coach is in service to their client by posing challenging and often uncomfortable questions, not to have all the answers.
In her book “Executive Coaching With Backbone and Heart” (2007), Mary Beth O’Neill defines three key factors that are at play in a business context:
- A business imperativethat needs to be addressed / achieved. This could be financial (increase revenue / decrease expenses), time management, or productivity.
- The leader’s interpersonal behaviorswithin their team that impacts the business imperative.
- The team dynamicsthat may be detrimental to achieving the business imperative.
It is the coach’s responsibility at the outset of a coaching engagement to help the client identify these factors and their interdependencies so they can focus on appropriate goals and metrics to pursue. Through a coaching engagement, new thinking can emerge that transforms ineffective behavioural patterns to achieve the business goal. However, it is important to remember that an Executive Coach coaches the whole person and not simply the “employee”. Factors such as the coachee’s values, ethics, attitudes, personal relationships, and maturity all impact the coaching relationship.
“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them”. – Sir John Whitmore
Mentoring, on the other hand, starts from a position of knowing. It is very directive and focuses on telling as opposed to asking, by offering guidance and advice based on years of experience in the industry and similar role. Mentors share experiences and offer should-do’s as opposed to asking questions. Often mentors and mentees are “matched” at the request of the mentee based on their industry experience or the type of qualification a mentee is seeking.
Many organizations adopt a formal mentorship program for employees under such categories as career development, high potential mentoring, or even diversity mentoring. It is important to remember that, in most cases, mentoring is an advisory and shared experience role.
Mentoring can also happen between senior and junior roles since an “old school” outlook should be subject to learning and considering change. With five generations now working together, for the first time in history, there is more to learn than ever before.
We are also mentors without even realizing it and others look up to us if we are accomplished, confident, willing to listen, and ultimately a good storyteller sharing stories of success. It is not unusual to learn many years later that something we said or did may have had a powerful influence on someone, and ultimately may have impacted their life.
“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction”. – unknown
Self-discovery Leads to Real Change
An Executive Coach is not constrained to coaching based on their background or experience as is expected in a mentoring relationship. As Executive Coaches, we state clearly at the outset of any engagement that our role is to enhance self-discovery so that clients can achieve transformations that are sustainable and long term. By helping our clients discover new ways of thinking for themselves, without the need for industry knowledge, real change can take place.
Asking thought provoking questions is an excellent way to communicate, but also a prerequisite for a coach. Coaches can steer a conversation to self-discovery by asking the right questions, and typically these are not short answers either. This allows an entire coaching session to springboard from one question and remaining focused.
Coachees need to be engaged and take responsibility for their own outcomes. That may mean being more vulnerable than usual or holding themselves accountable when they have not done so before. It is ideal if objectives are set at the beginning of the coaching relationship, so the future outcome can be realized when it occurs.
The X5 team of coaches will guide, teach, and mentor your leadership team, managers, or supervisors.
The role of the coach is to enhance the ongoing performance of the leader. X5 will develop a tailored program specific to your individual needs.
Both mentors and coaches are role models and the roles may overlap. Typically a coach provides guidelines that may be more formal since a mentor’s role is often more informal.
At X5 Management, we do recommend organizations consider an internal mentorship program that partners two employees for a 6-month period of time for a specific reason, with a planned outcome. This can reported on at the end of the mentorship period.
We also recommend coaching be considered from an external third party to ensure a qualified coach is selected, and the relationship remains confidential and occurs off site or in a private office. The feedback offered by the coach remains between the two and is not reported back to anyone at the organization unless at a high level debrief that does not breach any confidentiality.
Regardless of whether we are an executive coach, or mentor, we all like to be role models. That keeps us focused on “practicing what we preach” and exhibiting the right, and ideal, leadership qualities. Both roles are good at helping others find their own motivation by providing the right environment, promoting confidence, and becoming a cheerleader for desired learning and improvement. That is really what leads to personal growth and a sense of accomplishment.