Before answering that question, it is important to first understand the difference between a mentor and a coach. One of the most distinct differences is that mentoring is directive, while coaching is non-directive. What does that mean in practice?
In a mentoring meeting you are more likely to listen and learn from the experience of someone else. We might like the idea of someone senior providing all the answers, but it doesn’t always mean that you will arrive at the place you need to go.
But in coaching you are more likely to be asked questions and given an opportunity to reflect and talk through your beliefs or opinions. A professionally trained coach may engage in some mentoring, but, it is always explicit if they are giving personal advice, which the coachee can choose to follow or not. Both are useful but neither is a substitute for the other.
The origin of mentor can be dated back to ancient Greece. Given the role mentors can play in helping people on their career or life journey it is appropriate that the first reference was in The Odyssey.
In more recent years it has become fashionable to have a mentor. Some well-meaning organisations can build in a process of automatically allocating mentors to staff. But these trends fail to recognize if either party is ready and able to fully engage in the mentoring process Also, internal mentors can sometimes stand in the way of an honest conversation for the mentor and mentee.
In the worse case scenario people can end up with mentors out of obligation or even worse, ego. Instead, it can be beneficial to really reflect on why you need a mentor and what you hope to achieve. What is critical to choosing and have a successful relationship with a mentor is being open to the process and ready to accept direction.
“When the student is ready the teacher will appear”.
Some considerations before choosing a mentor:
· Do you need a mentor that has travelled a similar career path or someone that possesses a skill set or network that you lack?
· You need to be clear on your goals or else you risk being influenced by the well-intended, but perhaps not appropriate, agenda of others.
Selecting and engaging with the right mentor might take a few attempts. You may end up with the right person but the wrong time or vice versa. Some people have different mentors for different aspects of their lives from family to finance.
Once you know what you need and set clear boundaries with your mentor you can truly benefit from their wisdom and guidance on your personal odyssey.