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Do I need a leadership coach or mentor?

- 11 Feb 2019
Posted by: Margit Mansfield

Read time: 6 minutes

In this article:

  • The role of a mentor in an organisation, versus what to expect of a coach.
  • Why trusting your gut is one of the most important things to do in choosing a coach or mentor.
  • How to avoid getting ‘locked in’ to the ongoing consulting trap.

What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring?
It’s not a joke, the benefits of both are indisputable, however, which one you choose will determine both the journey and the destination for you and your business.

Coaching and mentoring present two powerful, related, yet separate paths. Individuals, teams and organisations can leverage both to maximise their potential and lift their performance.  Often we’re asked to provide coaching to a leader, only to discover that mentoring is what they really need – and vice versa.

It’s not uncommon that their expectations are different, so best to start with a shared understanding.

Leadership coach vs business coach vs leadership mentor

First, let’s look at what to expect from a leadership coach. 

Let’s say you’re an executive or emerging leader, keen to explore ways in which you could build better relationships or find a better work/life balance. In this case, coaching may be the preferred way to go.

If someone feels they could achieve more with the right focus and goals, then partnering with the right coach may help them move forward.  If you are telling yourself; “there has got to be more to life than this” – then, again, coaching may be a good option.

There is a catch: if you are looking for someone to provide you with the solutions and answers, then you will be disappointed.

A good coach believes that the client has all the resources they need to maximise their potential. The role of the coach is to partner with the client and challenge and inspire them to come up with their own answers. They are NOT an oracle or a guru. They help you to become your own guide.

Coaching should, at times, feel uncomfortable. Learning and growth means moving out of your comfort zone. 

It’s a coach’s job to ask questions that will challenge your thinking, stretch and push you when needed, and continue to hold the mirror up. They will encourage you and hold you accountable.

Your journey of self-discovery should include important insights and some breakthrough ‘a-hah’ moments, clear progress towards goals, and over time, the installation of new habits – new ways of thinking, doing and being. If the process is plain sailing, then you are not getting your money’s worth.

 


The work of a business coach is not dissimilar. Typically, a business coach will work closely with owners, management or board directors to help them uncover core issues. Then they will guide them in thinking strategically about the organisation’s strengths, weaknesses and vision.

Okay, what about a mentor?

A mentor is usually someone who has walked in the shoes you aspire to walk in (metaphorically speaking). You’ll seek them out because of their particular experience in a field or area of expertise which resembles your own.

For you, that may be a seasoned executive. Perhaps an A-lister who has successfully navigated the political games that need to be played to get to the top. Or, an experienced and successful CEO who can pass on years of experience and wisdom to a newly appointed CEO. They’re an example to model.

A key difference from a coach is that a mentor will have experienced and overcome the challenges you will likely face on your journey. They speak to your inner navigator about not only the journey but how to read the map. 

To find one, trust your gut. The people you admire or even feel a pang of jealousy toward, these are signs you may have found a potential mentor.

How do I find a coach to help me/us excel?

Pretty much anyone can hang out the coach shingle. But there are some tips to help you find the right one.

  • Word of mouth is always a good place to start, but remember to dig a bit deeper. If someone recommends a coach, ask them what results they were able to achieve and what sustained changes they were able to make as a result.
  • Pay attention to credentials. There are many good leadership and business coaches who may not have a formal qualification, but at the very least, you know that a coach with credentials has at least put some time and effort into mastering the art of coaching. This may include an International Coaching Federation credential.
  • Chemistry is everything. Even a highly experienced coach may not be the right fit for you. As with a mentor, listen to your intuition. If the chemistry is not right, call it straight away.
  • Ask your coach to describe their coaching process. If they can’t name a particular structure or methodology, be cautious. If your coaching meetings turn out to be meandering conversations with no clear focus on outcomes or goals, then you are wasting your time. Coaching should be focused on solutions, and your coach should have a solid, yet flexible approach to getting you there.

One absolute must: make sure the coach is truly in your corner, helping you flourish and grow.

You will get a sense pretty early on whether the coach you are working with is really interested in – and part of – your self-discovery journey. Steer clear of the coach that is focused on “fixing” you, continually working on your deficits rather than maximising your gifts.

To coach or not to coach?

There are a couple of ground rules we believe are important to set before we proceed with the coaching:

  • Coaching is not the answer to managing under-performance. If you have someone in your team whose performance should be managed, don’t handball the problem to a coach.   
  • The coach, coachee and their leader should all be on the same page as far as outcomes are concerned. Confidentially should be key at all times, but it’s important that the coachee’s leader is on board, supportive of the process and articulates their expectations of a successful outcome.  
  • Make the commitment. Coaching requires hard work, focus and time. You will be expected to put some time and effort in in between the coaching sessions. If a coachee consistently shows up for their coaching appointment with no preparation or completion of their agreed “homework” then they shouldn’t be surprised if their coach calls it quits.  
  • If the coach is not stretching you or helping you grow, feel free to fire them – and find one who will.

How Keogh approaches coaching and mentoring

At Keogh, we take a lot of time to explore what coaching and mentoring entails with our clients.

Often, coaching and mentoring go hand in hand. It’s not unusual for our coaches to partner with someone newly appointed to a senior role who requires the support of both a coach and mentor. While we may take up the mantle of coach, we will work with them to find a mentor from our extensive network.

Equally, at Keogh we often find ourselves stepping into the mentoring role. Our consultants are deeply experienced in leading and facilitating transformational change, and we will often provide mentoring and consulting advice to our clients who are daring to go on a similar ride.

Structured leadership development will benefit any organisation, but many of the changes might not be made at a desk. A holistic mix of personal and professional coaching has the potential to unlock the wisdom of a participant’s ‘authentic self.’ We help leaders to unearth their motivations and core beliefs; to develop their own personal stories. Doing so leads to a deeper knowledge of the self (and in turn, of others) which can have a profound impact within and beyond the organisation.

 

Which leads us to consulting. It’s our main game after all.

Like coaches, not all consultants are equal. A good consultant will bring a powerful blend of expertise, experience and creativity to client relationships. They will help clients clearly understand and frame their problems, before crafting solutions, and perhaps most importantly, helping them implement and embed these.

The Keogh Way results in us leaving the organisation better off, without the shackles of dependence that some consultants are known for. The aim is to build your capability as we go and to make ourselves redundant over time.

It’s perhaps not the best commercial approach – but it’s the right thing to do and we can live with that.

There we have it, coaching, mentoring, consulting – related yet different pathways to achieve your goals and outcomes. If you want to find out more, contact us – but buyer beware. If we start the journey, be prepared for an exciting, scary and rewarding ride!

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