Mentors vs. Coaches

Despite that their functions are so completely different, these two are often confused. It is not about style, ability, or remuneration, although these elements do come into play. No, it’s about completely different circumstances.

All Companies Should Use Mentors

SCC mentoringBy definition, a mentor is someone who has held the position which the new person is undertaking. They know the tricks, shortcuts, and secrets, and they can get them up to speed quickly.

Mentors should be in every company’s playbook. Despite their importance they are often overlooked or treated in a very haphazard fashion. The truth is they are vital.

When you bring someone new onboard, they need to be assigned a temporary mentor to get them up to speed. At this point it doesn’t matter whether it’s the C-suite or the mailroom; everybody needs a specific person to consult on general operations and accepted protocols. Don’t rely on the “just ask anyone” philosophy because sometimes new hires won’t ask, and at other times they may focus on a cooperative person who may not be qualified to give the answers.

Choosing a Mentor

If you desire additional mentoring to improve your skill set, find someone who knows a lot more than you do and seek their cooperation. A long-term mentor can steer a career, assisting with choices and directing mentees away from dead ends. Their job is to help them find profitable areas to exploit.

A good mentor will direct you to appropriate reading materials and perhaps allow you to work on projects above your pay grade to gain experience. They could even recommend external training, which, with proper support, the company will pay for.

Most companies measure the cost of mentoring as time lost by a senior employee who could be otherwise engaged in a bigger priority. In the more advanced organizations the mentor is often rewarded for the extra effort.

The Executive Coach

Executive coaching, on the other hand, is a horse of a different color, from a part of the spectrum which most people can’t even see. It no longer has the stigma of Summer School for recalcitrant students. Nowadays it is sought after, grail-like in its desirability and, in most cases, it should be denied.

That’s right…denied. C-suite executives certainly qualify, as they are the engine that drives the company, and don’t forget the whiz-kids (the brilliant young minds you just hired) if they’re the fulcrum upon which you expect to leverage your company. On the whole, however, it is wasteful below the C-suite. You have department managers who are already charged with coaching their team. Let them do their job, which you have already paid for.

Executive Coaching Is Misinterpreted

Businesswoman consulting a partnerMany ambitious executives think of executive coaching as a magic bullet. It’s a stepping stone on the way to a seven-digit income. It is also horrendously expensive, and certainly doesn’t happen overnight. Most useful engagements will take six months to a year to bear maximum fruit.

I’m not exaggerating when I say expensive. Think in terms of $4,000 a day or $500 an hour as typical for a good coach. This encompasses a couple of meetings per month, frequent phone calls, and (at first) daily e-mails to be sure they’re sticking to the plan.

Outside of a specific arrangement, a simple consultation by video link (e.g., Skype) is likely to cost $150+ for just 45 minutes. Their time and prices are worth it for the “right people.” It will not turn a drudge into a genius. That never happens, so spend your money wisely.

If executive coaching had existed at its current level of sophistication, Tom Watson would have had the perfect candidate for executive coaching back in his early days. He had an adventurous employee who was willing to take risks, but needed a better handle on how to assess those risks. He explained:

“Recently, I was asked if I was going to fire an employee who made a mistake that cost the company $600,000. ‘No,’ I replied, I just spent $600,000 training him. Why would I want somebody to hire his experience?”

–Thomas John Watson Sr., first CEO at IBM

Executive coaching can teach you to build profitable relationships with people who might otherwise be adversarial. CEOs or CFOs could potentially be butting heads with a large shareholder sitting on the Board of Directors. Your technical wizard might be alienating their development team by quashing any ideas that are not derived from his/her own philosophy. Someone moving from the Regional to the National stage, or from National to International, could benefit from executive coaching in order to learn how to direct their former peers.

They’re Not Consultants

This is another common mistake. Executive coaches often have expertise relating directly to your industry; however, giving you the answers on a silver platter is not their function. That will only create dependency, something you definitely want to eliminate at $500 an hour.

If you need a consultant, with specific targeted advice, you will get that at a much lower rate for a shorter period of time. Meanwhile let your executive coach empower your high-level executives and managers; let them teach your people how to deal with significant job changes; let them teach your executives to develop new coping strategies to deal with challenging situations. Or to quote from the original source:

…if you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn.

—Anne Isabella Thackeray Ritchie (1837–1919) novel: Mrs. Dymond (1885)

The Takeaway

Osmosis is a wonderful thing. That professional training bleeds over into their personal lives and makes them better, more capable, more fully-rounded individuals. Everything improves about them when they learn to make better, fully informed decisions in all aspects of their lives. They become better individuals; they become better team members; they become better representatives of the company.

Executive coaching helps your people effect growth and change by telling the unvarnished truth; by revealing perspectives, attitudes, belief-systems and blind spots that are sabotaging their efforts; by providing encouragement and empathy; by improving skills such as persuasion, team building, delegation, conflict resolution, and everyday communication abilities.

The more congruent the leadership is, the more effective the entire company is. Therefore consistent support to people receiving executive coaching is essential. Swimming with the current is easy; being obliged to swim upstream because higher-ups are not buying into the plan can sabotage the entire effort.

If you cannot create a consensus, or at the very least insulate the person receiving coaching from the naysayer, then the whole process could be costly and ineffective. Consider a different strategy.

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