The Benefits of Having a Mentor
Coaching and mentorship are two popular concepts that are used interchangeably quite often. And while there are similarities, they are not the same thing.
Management and executive coaching seems to be quite in demand these days and is cited often in literature. Not surprisingly, there are also numerous consultants offering coaching to their clients.
In the midst of this, mentorship seems to have taken a back seat, and the purpose of this article is to bring forth the benefits of having a mentor.
First however it is important to clarify what these two terms mean. With a clearer sense of their similarities and differences, we can discuss the benefits of having a mentor - with a particular focus on the wellness of the person being mentored.
Take a moment and type these words in your Google search and will discover page after page attempting to define the similarities and differences between “Coaching” and “Mentoring”.
The fact that these two words are often used interchangeably can easily create some confusion. Yet a simple definition will allow the reader to compare and contrast the two roles.
"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)
"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)
“A mentor has a one-on-one relationship with the person who is being mentored. Their position is not so much a job, but more a friend with a higher level of experience, helping someone along the way. Usually the mentor will use their own expertise to help guide their protégé on the right course through business and personal decisions. They offer advice and constructive criticism, allowing the person to learn from their mistakes and successes. Though mentoring programs are usually set up for the benefit of the mentored individual, many mentors find that they learn and grow throughout their experience, as well.”
- Oscar Derrida, Coaching Vs Mentoring - What’s the Difference?
Coaching appears to be focused on improving performance and effectiveness of the “coachee”, while mentorship is ensuring the transfer of knowledge and information, but more focused on the individual journey of the person being mentored. In other terms, coaching focuses on development of competencies, “learning to do” - while mentorship focuses on accompaniment or “being with”.
Have you ever benefited from the support of a good mentor? I have been blessed on many occasions to have had someone take me under their wing to show me the ropes. In looking back now, I realize that not only did my mentor show me the ropes, but he invited and challenged me to be well not only in my work, but in my life.
By “wellness” I am referring specifically to the six dimensions of wellness as outlined by Diane Thompson in her recent blog, Wellness Defined:
How then does a mentor do this?
Organizational life and culture can be extremely demanding and confusing.
Should I work more hours to get ahead?
How can I speak truth to power?
How can I ask for what I need to get my work done?
There are so many demands that we can easily fall into the trap of feeling that no matter how fast we run, we will never get there or come close to realizing what we are hoping to achieve.
Being well in all circumstances
How can we maintain harmony with the various aspects of our lives and remain well?
It is on this ground that an excellent mentor walks with us. The primary concern of a mentor is that we are well and are able to learn and manoeuvre and harmonize our lives at work, at play and at home.
A mentor will help us understand how to “get things done around here” - after all, they have been down that road. Often a mentor will state that we should “pick our battles”, but what does this really mean? It is an intuitive way of saying that you must judge the level of importance that the issue has for you, have the capacity to read the situation, and possess a good knowledge of the people you are working with. Once you have done this, you will be better equipped to act
A good mentor can help me unhook from relationships or from situations that challenge me. My mentor has often helped me to accept the situation as it is; understand how I am contributing to the problem, and help me to let go of historical justifications and future expectations - just come to accept the situation as is.
With this clarity I can make healthy choices moving forward.
Impact of a mentor
I have always wanted to be a good manager, and aspired to be an exceptional director. I automatically thought that to do so I would need to develop key skills and leadership competencies, and sought out resources to do this. I was quite active in my efforts to take my leadership abilities to the next level.
It was one of my mentors who helped shift my gaze to another place. He helped me understand that the secret to effective leadership was to look inward; to be ready to work on ‘who I was’ and not just ‘what I do’. Wow! Now that was the most difficult task that I had undertaken.
To be comfortable with who I was.
I was so busy saying yes to everyone, and to occasions to develop myself, that I had forgotten the essential ingredient - and that was the courage to look inside and do the hard work of accepting myself, choosing what was life-giving, and learning to say no and establish clear limits.
My mentor helped me understand that I needed to be well; not only a good leader, but a good father who took care of himself and connected all of the parts of his life together.
If you come across a good mentor, walk with them for a while until they start helping you make the journey that takes you inward, so that what you do and how you act is grounded and life-giving.