Mentoring for High Performance

We are often asked on our programs ‘what’s the difference between coaching and mentoring?’ and many managers realise that what they call ‘coaching’ is actually ‘mentoring’.  In this blog, rather than explore the differences, I want to consider how mentoring is similar to coaching and how it leads to high performance in the workplace.

At the ICF Australasia Conference I was interested in Professor David Clutterbuck’s statement that ‘rather than teach managers to be coaches, first teach them to mentor’. And it got me thinking about that transition from manager to mentor to coach.

When we think about our mentors in our professional and personal lives we might think about a person who is easy to talk to; someone that we can confide in confidently; someone that listens and offers some wisdom or stretches our thinking.  Good mentors will take the time to find out what’s happening in our lives and what particularly we want to talk about.  I will book a time to catch up with my mentor, sometimes for an informal chat, but normally because something is on my mind and I’m trying to solve a problem.

All of the qualities described above are the same that we bring to our coaching conversations and coaching relationships.  Clutterbuck’s suggestion is to encourage managers to really focus on those mentoring qualities of listening and being present; being interested and focused on the person that they are talking with and to schedule some formal sit down time.  By doing so, managers are more likely to bring out the best in the people that they are working with, even without formal coaching tools and frameworks.  And mentoring becomes a sort of transition role between managing and coaching.

The key to successful mentoring in my experience is to make the conversations more like coaching sessions and for them to be scheduled, rather ad hoc.  I’ve seen a number of mentoring programs in workplaces not achieve their desired outcomes because the mentor doesn’t have enough time to catch up with their own direct reports, let alone the mentee that they are assigned to mentor.  If this is the case, the mentoring relationship doesn’t really last past the first one or two interactions.

A formal mentoring program with structured roles and responsibilities, an expression of interest process and formal matching process is more likely to be successful in the longer term and more likely to enable the high performance in the individuals participating in the program.  Extending their natural mentoring abilities with an overlay of coaching skills then equips the manager to really make a difference and move away from expressing their own opinions and trying to solve the mentees problems.

I’ve delivered a number of mentoring programs taking this approach – to first explore the mentoring relationship and then to overlay coaching skills.  The managers in the program typically say ‘shouldn’t I be doing this with my direct reports?’ and of course the answer is ‘yes’!  They typically start out being focused on how they can add value to the mentoring relationship.  And in exploring how they can add value in the mentoring relationship, they make the links to achieving higher performance within their own teams.

So as described in my opening, rather than focusing on the differences between mentoring and coaching, there is value in exploring the similarities and then building on those similarities with coaching skills to achieve high performance in the workplace.

Enjoy your coaching – and mentoring!