In the last two posts we have looked at the importance of your support team, and who should be in your support team. You will notice that we advocate using both a coach and a mentor. Many people are confused about the difference between the two. (If I can be honest, the coaching and mentoring industry is often confused about the difference!) In this blog post, we look at what is the difference between these two essential members of your support team.

Coaching is a way of using everyday work situations as a vehicle for learning. It is about unlocking an individual’s potential to maximise their own performance, and about helping them to learn rather than teaching them. There are two main forms of coaching: either helping the learner to change behaviours or to acquire new skills. It is performance-oriented, job-focused and task-related, and tends to concentrate on personal development in the short-term.

A mentor is a trusted adviser, usually someone more experienced or in a more senior role, who acts as a sounding board and helps the mentee to find his/her own direction. It focuses on long-term career development and personal growth. The flow of learning is two-way, as the mentor also benefits from gaining a different perspective. The relationship often develops into a strong, long-term friendship.

The two approaches do, however, overlap in many ways, and should be regarded as complementary rather than mutually exclusive. Your mentor may be a skilled coach, and you may find times when you want to tap into the benefit of your coach’s experience. Normally you will find that most professionals have a mentor who is internal to their firm and a coach who is external to their firm.

Whilst, it’s actually fairly unusual to find yourself without a mentor in a professional services firm, it’s not uncommon to not use a coach. In our experience, this is a shortcut which many professionals take. How serious are you about making partner? How much are you prepared to personally invest in your career success? A coach can help you both make partner, but also do it in a way which does not compromise your values or principles.

If you don’t yet have a coach, then download, from our career kitbag, our free guide to getting your firm to pay for a coach for you.