People often ask me what the difference is between coaching and mentoring. Are they one and the same thing? Does one have more value than the other? And how are they relevant to freelance trainers?
There are some fundamental differences between coaching and mentoring. In my experience, both can have an incredible amount of value but whether you would most benefit from having a coach and/or a mentor will depend on your individual circumstances and desired outcomes.
What is coaching?
Coaching tends to be a short-term arrangement that’s very much task-orientated. Whether you want to change an aspect of your personal life or improve the performance of your business, you would typically hire a coach to help you set and achieve goals to boost a particular behavioural performance.
A business coach, for example, might help you identify how to make more sales, overhaul your marketing, create a strategic approach to your business or improve your impact as a public speaker.
Whatever your focus, the coaching agenda is determined by your specific goals. The coach is someone who encourages you to take action, to be accountable and to follow up on your intentions. For that reason, you might hire a coach for a fast track to move forward or up in your career.
Meetings with a coach tend to be structured and take place on a regular basis. A coach doesn’t necessarily have to have direct experience of your job or personal situation.
What is mentoring?
A mentor, on the other hand, is usually someone who is more qualified and experienced in the same career, industry or direction in life as you. They may be on the same journey but further down the road, giving you the benefit of their knowledge, experience and opening doors to new opportunities for you.
As a result, mentoring tends to be a longer-term arrangement than coaching; an arrangement that’s relationship-orientated and driven by your personal and/or professional development.
In my experience, mentoring typically goes through a design phase where you and your mentor explore the strategic purpose or focus of your relationship. Are you seeking a better work/life balance? Do you want to improve your self-confidence or change your self-perception for the better? Do you want to become more skilled in your field or raise your professional profile? These are all issues a mentor can help you address – the agenda is yours.
The value of having a mentor when you’re a freelance trainer
While coaching can have significant benefits in terms of achieving set goals during a particular window of time, I think most of us could benefit from having a trusted mentor in our corner, whatever our occupation.
A mentor is someone who is independent of our friends, family and colleagues. Instead of being an all-out cheerleader or critic, they are an experienced individual – e.g. a training veteran – who is able to give you the value of their objective advice and support so that you can make informed decisions about your own development or business.
An experienced mentor can prevent you from falling into common traps, or highlight potential pitfalls or even opportunities that you may have been too busy to notice on your own. This is especially helpful if you are a freelance trainer.
Why? Freelancers have to develop a whole host of skills outside of the training room and it’s inevitable that you will have some gaps in your skillset and knowledge. A mentor can fill those gaps. In addition, a mentor can offer a valuable sounding board that is often missing when you’re no longer part of a wider team.
Because your mentor will have walked the same path as you earlier in their career, they know what it takes to thrive professionally and spiritually. By spiritually, I mean creating an outlook that sits comfortably with your hopes and values – this can be invaluable when there is no obvious right or wrong solution to a situation and you need to be steered by your own compass.
Finding the right mentor
Your mentor should be someone you respect and who inspires you because you will be much more likely to listen to what they have to say. There is something reassuring and empowering about having a person you respect and admire say, “It’s OK; that happened to me once as well”. It gives you a glimpse of your own possible future and highlights the inherent learning value of making mistakes.
Having a mentor is a great confidence booster too. After all, if someone you respect and admire is prepared to invest their time in supporting you, then they probably recognise your potential and you begin to see yourself through their eyes.
Finding the right mentor has a lot to do with chemistry and trust. For most people, it’s important that their mentor shares a common background – for example, people choose me as their mentor because of my extensive experience as a freelance trainer – but that the mentor is not also a colleague, investor or rival trainer as this would lead to a conflict of interests and raise several red flags.
It’s a good idea to have an initial conversation with a potential mentor about what you would like to get from the mentoring relationship. Mentoring works best when you feel you have the space to speak openly and honestly, so it’s crucial to feel as though you have natural rapport with your mentor.
So, have you ever had a mentor or considered working with one? If you do have a mentor, how has it changed your business?