Why would successful coaches want to join the growing ranks of professional mentors?

One of the big distinctions historically between coaching and mentoring has been that coaching is generally paid for, while mentoring is a voluntary activity. As a consequence, professional coaches are expected to have invested in some form of professional accreditation requiring a course of study; while mentoring has been seen as “amateur” – a relationship rather than an activity.

These distinctions have been blurring for some time. There have been paid mentors since the late 1990s – typically retired business leaders, who find a role guiding younger entrepreneurs. The boundaries of what they do are often vague – a mixture of soft consultancy, advice based on their lengthy experience and sounding board. With few exceptions, they have very little training in the role.

In recent years, however, there has been a trend in several countries for these retiring “elder statesmen” to want to offer a more professional service, with a level of qualification at least equal to that of executive coaches. They want to make use of their experience and expertise in a non-directive, client-centred style. Mentoring Academies have arisen to meet this demand.

At the same time, experienced coaches frequently find that the boundaries between coaching and mentoring are often less clear than “textbook” coaching demands. To be fully responsive to clients, they often need to act as a sounding board, provide contextual information, make suggestions and offer narratives from their own experience, where it will help the client with their thinking. Some feel guilty about moving into this territory; others recognise that they cannot fully service the client without doing so.

At one level, it can be argued that common models of coaching, such as GROW, are inherently directive, because they require the client and the client’s issue to fit into the coach’s process. At the same time, the non-directive, questioning approach of developmental mentoring was one of the sources, from which developmental coaching derived. So it makes sense for coaches, who want to be able to offer a broad range of responses to clients, should add mentoring competence to their skill set.

An advantage of doing so is that they now have an outlet for using their experience – of business, work and life – more coherently in service of their clients.

So what’s involved? Firstly, a deep reflection on one’s own experiences – the basis of wisdom. Mentoring can be defined as using one’s own wisdom to help another person develop their own wisdom. Secondly, the skills of using personal experience to stimulate and support the client’s thinking. Thirdly, understanding of a range of psychological and behavioural issues rarely emphasised in coach training – for example, the conscious and unconscious exercise of power, and the skills of being an effective role model. Fourthly, an appreciation and acquisition of relevant knowledge and expertise in specific applications of mentoring, such as ethical mentoring (requiring an understanding of the psychology of ethicality) or diversity.

Along the way, there may be some unlearning and questioning of assumptions about coaching itself. Coaches, who have made the transition to coach-mentor, typically find that the process enriches the quality and eclecticism of their coaching and their confidence in being able to “depart from the script”.


David Clutterbuck, 2014


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