Mentoring vs. Coaching

I am a member of an elite group of women who are called The Moxie Exchange Movement.  In the dictionary, the word Moxie is a slang term for vigor or verve.  On the founder’s LinkedIn page, Maureen Berkner Boyt says, “Fasten your seatbelt, sister. If you’re looking for learning and growth events, tools, and a community of already successful women who want to grow themselves, their ideas, and their leadership abilities we may be just the thing you’ve been searching for.”

I have enjoyed my time as a Moxie this past year, because I believe in the value of collaboration and peer mentoring.  I attend a monthly meeting and lay my biggest business challenges at the feet of a group of diverse, driven and successful colleagues.  These women are truly defined by their vigor and verve, and they are not afraid to challenge, suggest or cajole me to take my thinking (and doing) to the next level. I also have the opportunity to add value to them, as they work to transform how they impact the world they live in. We share our life experiences around the various topics that come up. This past month we went a step further, and my group invested in mentoring 22 young women between the ages of 10 and 20.  It’s part of Moxie’s Go Girl initiative, and it provides us with a structure to pass on what we have learned by mentoring the next generation of women leaders.

As many of you know, I am a certified coach and I have been actively coaching for almost twenty years. I say this to emphasize that I spend time regularly in coaching conversations with clients.  In my mind, there is a clear distinction between mentoring vs. coaching, but I notice that the line often gets blurred, and I thought a great deal about this following the Go Girl meeting.  I invited my granddaughter, and because of the nature of our relationship, she often seeks me out for guidance and, dare-I-say, wisdom. This particular visit was no exception, and while I am deeply grateful for our relationship, I began to reflect on the role I play with her. I clearly see myself as more of a mentor, but as I pondered this definition, I went searching for some words to wrap my head around what my heart already knew.

Below are some definitions that resonate with me related to the role of mentoring vs. coaching:

Mentoring is a relationship between an experienced person and a less experienced person for the purpose of helping the one with less experience in a given area.  A trusted counselor or guide.

Coaching, according to the International Federation of Coaching, is partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

In my role with the clients I coach, it would be false to say that I am more experienced, because typically they have significantly more knowledge and skill related to their area of expertise.  I may be more experienced as a coach in deploying techniques that explore, expand, and create more of what they want to achieve.  I do have an innate ability to see my clients’ greatness, and build enough trust that they are willing to share their fears, which is an important step in developing a strategy to move past them.  Just like peer-mentoring, I can give my coaching clients a hard push when they need it or a soft acknowledgment when that is what will make the biggest difference.  My coaching skills support a creative process that moves clients in the direction that most aligns with who they are and what they want to accomplish.  The obvious distinction is that when I mentor, I share what I have known and have learned through experience, at the request of another.

But with my granddaughter, who comes to me with the dilemmas that life has presented her, I don’t take on the role of coach. I do my best to listen and be present with her, and to meet her where our hearts do the talking.  This is clearly an example of using coaching skills.  I give her the best advice I can when she asks me for it, and I base it on my years walking this earth and what I have learned along the way.  This feels a bit like mentoring.  Sometimes, I can only point her back to her parents, as there is nothing I can offer that will add value to whatever difficulty she faces. This is being a trusted guide. I guess sometimes I am her coach, and sometimes her mentor and her guide, but always I am her champion.  I am 100% invested in her, forever.

Sometimes that level of investment makes me wish I could tell her all the pitfalls to watch out for so that she could avoid the stumbles I have made.  The older I get the more I realize that she will have to learn her lessons in her own time, just as those who came before her did. When she is ready to learn, she will ask, and I will always be there when she does.  While it is our nature to want to shelter and protect, life gives us the lessons we are meant to have when we are meant to have them.  And in my search for meaning, and wondering at just the right word to describe the role I play with her, I came across the word elder.

Elder: one having authority by virtue of age and experience.

I am like the village elders of ancient times. I have become one of the older members of my family and with this, the authority to help guide the younger ones on their life journey.  But with age and wisdom also comes the recognition that life teaches what needs to be taught.  For my sweet granddaughter, I am here always, a safe place she can come to as she learns to accept herself and her place in the world.

It’s important to know your role in the cycle of all things.

 

If you like this blog, I think you will like my book The Cycle of Transformation. Available now!
Deb Siverson is a seasoned executive coach, certified as a PCC through the International Coach Federation. If you want to schedule time to discuss how you or your organization can increase engagement by having a different conversation at work, contact us now.