what are coaching and mentoring?

 

Everything you ever wanted to know about coaching and mentoring, and quite a lot that you probably didn't

What are Coaching and Mentoring?

Both coaching and mentoring are processes that enable both individual and corporate clients to achieve their full potential.

Coaching and mentoring share many similarities so it makes sense to outline the common things coaches and mentors do whether the services are offered in a paid (professional) or unpaid (philanthropic) role.

  • Facilitate the exploration of needs, motivations, desires, skills and thought processes to assist the individual in making real, lasting change.
  • Use questioning techniques to facilitate client's own thought processes in order to identify solutions and actions rather than takes a wholly directive approach
  • Support the client in setting appropriate goals and methods of assessing progress in relation to these goals
  • Observe, listen and ask questions to understand the client's situation
  • Creatively apply tools and techniques which may include one-to-one training, facilitating, counselling & networking.
  • Encourage a commitment to action and the development of lasting personal growth & change.
  • Maintain unconditional positive regard for the client, which means that the coach is at all times supportive and non-judgemental of the client, their views, lifestyle and aspirations.
  • Ensure that clients develop personal competencies and do not develop unhealthy dependencies on the coaching or mentoring relationship.
  • Evaluate the outcomes of the process, using objective measures wherever possible to ensure the relationship is successful and the client is achieving their personal goals.
  • Encourage clients to continually improve competencies and to develop new developmental alliances where necessary to achieve their goals.
  • Work within their area of personal competence.
  • Possess qualifications and experience in the areas that skills-transfer coaching is offered.
  • Manage the relationship to ensure the client receives the appropriate level of service and that programmes are neither too short, nor too long.

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Useful definitions

The common thread uniting all types of coaching & mentoring is that these services offer a vehicle for analysis, reflection and action that ultimately enable the client to achieve success in one more areas of their life or work.

Here are some published definitions we particularly like...

Coaching is…

"a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve. To be a successful a Coach requires a knowledge and understanding of process as well as the variety of styles, skills and techniques that are appropriate to the context in which the coaching takes place"

Eric Parsloe,  The Manager as Coach and Mentor (1999) page 8. Eric is a respected author and Director of the OCM

 

Mentoring is...

"off-line help by one person to another in making significant transitions in knowledge, work or thinking"

Clutterbuck, D & Megginson, D, Mentoring Executives and Directors (1999) page 3 (available in the  bookshop). David Clutterbuck & David Megginson are both founder members of The European Mentoring and Coaching Council and highly respected authors, academics and consultants in the mentoring arena.

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The difference between coaching and mentoring

As can be seen above, there are many similarities between coaching and mentoring! Mentoring, particularly in its traditional sense, enables an individual to follow in the path of an older and wiser colleague who can pass on knowledge, experience and open doors to otherwise out-of-reach opportunities. Coaching on the other hand is not generally performed on the basis that the coach has direct experience of their client's formal occupational role unless the coaching is specific and skills focused.

Having said this, there are professionals offering their services under the name of mentoring who have no direct experience of their clients' roles and others offering services under the name of coaching who do. So the moral of the story is, it is essential to determine what your needs are and to ensure that the coach or mentor can supply you with the type and level of service you require, whatever that service is called.

See also  Finding the right service

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Business coaching & mentoring

Organisational development, changes brought about by mergers and acquisitions as well as the need to provide key employees with support through a change of role or career are often catalysts, which inspire companies to seek coaching or mentoring.

At one time coaching and mentoring were reserved for senior managers and company directors, now it is available to all as a professional or personal development tool. Coaching and mentoring are also closely linked with organisational change initiatives in order to help staff to accept and adapt to changes in a manner consistent with their personal values and goals.

Coaching & mentoring, both of which focus on the individual, can enhance morale, motivation and productivity and reduce staff turnover as individuals feel valued and connected with both small and large organisational changes. This role may be provided by internal coaches or mentors and, increasingly, by professional coaching agencies.

Coaching and mentoring programmes generally prove to be popular amongst employees as coaching achieves a balance between fulfilling organisational goals and objectives whilst taking into account the personal development needs of individual employees. It is a two-way relationship with both the organisation and the employee gaining significant benefits.

There is also an increasing trend for individuals to take greater responsibility for their personal & professional development and even those who are employed in large organisations are no longer relying on employers to provide them with all or their career development needs. There has been an increase in the number of individuals contracting coaches and mentors on a private basis. Some are looking for a career change, but many are also seeking to maximise their potential with an existing employer or achieve greater balance with their work and home lives.

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Executive Coaching & Mentoring

There is a great deal of overlap between business and executive coaching or mentoring. Many people will offer either service, but there is a growing body of professionals in the UK who are calling themselves executive coaches and mentors and are differentiating themsleves in the marketplace. The key differences between business and executive coaching and mentoring are that Executive coaches and mentors typically…

  • Have a track record in professional and executive roles
  • Work exclusively with the 'high-flyers' or with those who have potential to be a high flyer
  • Work at board or CEO level within high profile or 'blue-chip' organisations
  • Offer total confidentiality
  • Work with potential 'captains of industry' and high profile business leaders

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Performance Coaching and mentoring

Many coaching clients will seek coaching or mentoring for performance enhancement rather than the rectification of a performance issue. Coaching & mentoring have been shown to be highly successful intervention in these cases. When an organisation is paying premium rates for development services, performance is usually the key pay-back they are looking for. Even if an executive or manager receives support in balancing work and home life, it will be with the aim of increasing their effectiveness and productivity at work and not for more altruistic reasons.

Performance coaching derives its theoretical underpinnings and models from business and sports psychology as well as general management approaches.

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Skills coaching & mentoring

Skills coaching has some commonalities with one-to-one training. Skills coaches & mentors combine a holistic approach to personal development with the ability to focus on the core skills an employee needs to perform in their role. Skills coaches & mentors should be highly experienced and competent in performing the skills they teach.

Job roles are changing at an ever increasing rate. Traditional training programmes are often too inflexible or generic to deal with these fast moving requirements. In these instances one-to-one skills coaching allows a flexible, adaptive 'just-in-time' approach to skills development. It is also possible to apply skills coaching in 'live' environments rather than taking people away from the job into a 'classroom' where it is less easy to simulate the job environment.

Skills coaching programmes are tailored specifically to the individual, their knowledge, experience, maturity and ambitions and is generally focused on achieving a number of objectives for both the individual and the company. These objectives often include the individual being able to perform specific, well-defined tasks whilst taking in to account the personal and career development needs of the individual.

One-to-one skills training is not the same as the 'sitting next to Nelly' approach to 'on the job training'. What differentiates it is that like any good personal or professional development intervention it is based on an assessment of need in relation to the job-role, delivered in a structured (but highly flexible) manner, and generates measurable learning and performance outcomes. This form of skills training is likely to focus purely on the skills required to perform the job function even though it may adopt a facilitative coaching approach instead of a 'telling' or directive style.

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Personal coaching & mentoring

Personal or 'life coaching' servcies have grown significantly in the UK, Europe and Australia over the past decade. Personal coaches may work face-to-face but email and telephone based relationships are also very common. These coaches and mentors operate in highly supportive roles to those who wish to make some form of significant change happen within their lives.

Coaches offer their clients a supportive and motivating environment to explore what they want in life and how they might achieve their aspirations and fulfil their needs. By assisting the client in committing to action and by being a sounding-board to their experiences, coaching allows the individual the personal space and support they need to grow and develop. The coach's key role is often is assisting the client to maintain the motivation and commitment needed to achieve their goals.

In many cases personal coaching is differentiated from business coaching purely by the context and the focus of the programme. Business coaching is always conducted within the constraints placed on the individual or group by the organisational context. Personal coaching on the other hand is taken entirely from the individual's perspective.

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How do coaching and mentoring compare with related professional services?

Traditional forms of training Coaching/mentoring
  • Wholesale transfer of new skills, e.g. change in procedures, new systems (e.g. software application training), new job function.
  • Programmes are mostly generic and not tailored to individual needs. Delegates generally have to complete standard modules, so there is little room for tailoring the programme to account for existing knowledge, skills or preferences.
  • Not always sufficiently similar to the 'live' working environment to ensure effective skills transfer.
  • Best suited to transfer of knowledge and certain skills rather than the development of personal qualities or competencies
  • Development activities are designed to suit client's personal needs (whether aspiration or performance related) and learning styles.
  • Fine tunes and develops skills.
  • Can focus on interpersonal skills, which cannot be readily or effectively transferred in a traditional training environment.
  • Provides client with contacts and networks to assist with furthering their career or life aspirations.
  • Performed in the 'live' environment or off-line.
  • Highly effective when used as a means of supporting training initiatives to ensure that key skills are transferred to the 'live' environment.
  • Coaches and mentors transfer the skills to the client rather than doing the job for them.
Counselling Consultancy
  • Explore personal issues and problems through discussion in order to increase understanding or develop greater self-awareness.
  • The aim of counselling is to lead the client toward self-directed actions to achieve their goals.

 

N.B. Coaching and counselling share many core skills. However, professional counsellors work with personal issues in much greater depth than would generally be explored within a coaching context.

  • Focus is on developing organisational practices, processes and structure.
  • Role generally more strategic and often used to instigate and design broad ranging change programmes
  • Consultancy frequently involves expert advice about specific issues and organisational processes.
  • Consultants are often brought in to provide specific 'solutions' to business problems and needs
  • Consultant leads the job for the organisation: whilst upskilling the employee/client may be a contractual part of the service, it is not generally the primary goal.

 

N.B. The term consultant coach is often used when the coach is external to the organisation and therefore offering services on an 'external' or 'consultancy' basis. This is not, however, the same as consultancy per se.

Coaching and mentoring has been offered by consultancy companies for many years, even though it is not specifically 'consultancy' It is only recently that people have begun drawing a distinction which in some cases, like the distinction between coaching and mentoring, is not useful in distinguishing between them.

 

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Is coaching just therapy by another name?

Coaching is not necessarily 'therapy' by another name although the key theoretical underpinnings, models and techniques found their origins in the field of psychology and associated therapies like gestalt &cognitive behavioural therapy which have broad ranging applications in both organisational and personal contexts.

The key difference between coaching and the therapies is that coaching does not seek to resolve the deeper underlying issues that are the cause of serious problems like poor motivation, low self-esteem and poor job performance. Coaching and mentoring programmes are generally more concerned with the practical issues of setting goals and achieving results within specific time-scales.

Coaching and mentoring is generally commenced on the premise that clients are self-aware and 'whole' and have selected coaching or mentoring because they do not require a therapeutic intervention. It is possible for someone who has underlying issues to experience success within a coaching context even if the underlying issues are not resolved. If, however, a client becomes 'stuck' and the coaching or mentoring programme is not achieving desired results, then a psychological or therapeutic intervention may be necessary for the client to move forward and achieve their goals.

Coach & mentor training programmes which are typically quite short are not aimed at qualifying coaches to conduct an assessment of whether someone may be in need of a therapeutic intervention, rather than a coaching or mentoring one. This is driven in part by the professional restrictions and barriers that have traditionally been placed around psychology and the therapies, but is mostly due to the fact that psychological assessment is a complex process that does require specialised training. Professional coaches & mentors do, however, stay ever alert to the possibility that a client may have or may develop issues or problems for which coaching or mentoring on it's own, is not sufficient.

Client progress is always monitored and coaches and mentors watch for signs which may indicate that a client requires an assessment by a trained therapist. Some coaches will on-refer a client to an appropriate therapist if this is felt to be useful. Other coaches will conduct a coaching programme in parallel with a therapeutic intervention.

Most coaches & mentors are keen to maintain the professional boundaries between coaching & mentoring and the traditional therapies and will collaborate with therapists when a client requires this form of intervention.

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The traditional therapies, psychology and counselling and their relationship to coaching

Contrary to popular belief, therapy is not 'backwards focused' and does not conform to the stereotype of spending 20 years attending weekly sessions to discuss childhood experiences. See A Guide to Psychology and its Practice for a more realistic & modern view of what clinical psychology and the therapies have to offer.

Therapy is, if anything, an extension of what happens in a coaching relationship, it is forward focused and aimed at life improvement or enhancement. It is about moving on and breaking free from problems and issues that have held people back and prevented them from getting all they can from their lives. Another popular misconception is that in order to undergo therapy one must be 'crazy' or 'neurotic' which is not the case.

Therapy is also time-limited and based on an assessment of needs. It is quite rare now to encounter therapies that involve open-ended interventions that last for many years. Therapists are highly trained, with 4 years of full-time undergraduate training followed by 1-2 years full-time post-graduate study and from 3-5 supervised full-time practice before being considered 'qualified'. Therapists, counsellors & clinical psychologists must usually engage in professional 'supervision' for the whole of their career to ensure that a high standards are maintained. Psychologists who apply therapeutic approaches are also ethically and professionally bound to work with clients only if measurable value can be demonstrated, this means that if people do not actually NEED therapy, it is not ethical for providers to continue providing the services.

Because of this relationship between coaching and psychology & the therapies, some professionals offering coaching services are, in fact, therapists, counsellors or psychologists. This means it is possible to offer the appropriate level of service depending on immediate needs and client preferences.

It is increasingly common for the titles such as 'positive' or 'coaching psychology' to be used make it easier for clients to find service providers who take a psychological focus within their work as a coach. For an explanation of coaching psychology as an area of practice see www.coachingpsychologist.net/WhatIs/Index.php

Anyone seeking life improvement, and who is willing to work at the deeper issues could benefit from contracting a coach or mentor who does have a traditional therapeutic background in the first instance. If the client is not sure what type of service would benefit them the most, they should be encouraged to secure a professional assessment by an appropriately qualified provider.

In some countries such as the UK, there is goverment regulation in place for psychologists. A small number of restricted titles have been identified by the Govt for the purpose of ensuring that the public can be assured that any professional using these titles is appropriately registered under the regulatory framework.

Titles restricted by the UK Goverment to protect the public include Clinical Psychologist, Counselling Psychologist and Occupational Psychologist. More general terms like psychologist, therapist and counsellor are not restricted titles, so anyone is able to use thee to market their services. The titles 'coaching psychologist' and 'positive psychologist' are, for example, not restricted.  As this is the case, when selecting a coach or mentor with therapeutic, counselling or business focused psychological skills it is important to ensure they are registered with an appropriate regulatory body. In the UK, titles for the profession of psychology are regulated by the Health & Care Professions Council www.hcpc-uk.org.