Almost 25 years ago, I was assigned an employee to mentor for the very first time. I had no idea how to mentor someone, but proud and excited to be asked. I was also scared.
Mentoring is not a skill that was taught in any class I took. I never received training. I was just expected to know how. I scheduled the first meeting with my new mentee with no agenda. We were just going to meet each other and talk. My plan as a mentor was to share experiences and give advice. That is what a mentor does, right? After the first meeting I became discouraged. I felt inadequate and worthless. I had no sense of the direction to lead my mentee. I was not sure how I could help this person. We continued to meet, but the meetings were not productive. I struggled adding future meetings to my calendar because I had more important things to do. Activities in which I provided more value to the company than mentoring. After a few months we just stopped meeting. I had failed with my first mentee.
I am glad that over the next 25 years, I was able to develop world class mentoring skills. It would never have happened if I had not failed first. People that avoid failure, risk never experiencing the event that will positively change their life forever.
For some time, I avoided mentoring, but soon I was assigned another mentee. The second experience was better, but ultimately a failure. In fact, I continued to fail several more times. I learned from my mistakes. I sought out training. I learned more by doing than from books. I had to be willing to face my mistakes, and do the work required to improve.
Being a great mentor is not easy. There is not one single skill that automatically makes a good mentor. Instead, mentors have a long list of skills including listening, teaching, training, guiding, storytelling, coaching, and most importantly human personalities and motivations. You can be a world class mentor. It requires life skills that grow through experience, failure, improvement, and practice. What lessons have you learned that make you a better mentor? Have you learned more from a book, or by practice? What are you learning now, that will make you a better mentor?
There is, in fact, a big difference between mentoring and coaching. What makes them so different? Is it necessary to learn how to coach and mentor, or can you do well enough picking one of those areas to pursue? Thresette Briggs, one of our consultants and speakers here at AccelaWork, wrote a post that may shed some light on this topic and some helpful ways that you can differentiate between the two.
Differences Between Mentoring and Coaching
Through my experiences, I have learned that mentoring differs from coaching in that it’s generally for a longer period of time and focuses on developing the individual holistically for the future—professionally, personally, and often, spiritually. Mentoring is often about following someone through their path in life, learning from their lessons and mistakes. Mentoring is often a private, one-to-one relationship.
Coaching, on the other hand, may only be for a short period of time and focuses on helping the individual overcome a specific issue or performance challenge in the present. I’ve been fortunate to experience the power of coaching and mentoring.
While there are clear differences between coaching and mentoring, the differences complement each other, making both valuable and necessary. Together they are a powerful, unbeatable combination for developing future leaders. Their differences are summarized in the table below.
To learn more about developing and/or improving processes such as mentorship at work, be sure to reach out to AccelaWork.