Feel stuck, but not sure what to do about it? A coach might be able to help you, but what type of coach should you look for? koach.net’s FIT FOR PURPOSE blog series explores the main types of coaching out there to help you choose the best coach for your needs. 

What is a mentor?

The original Mentor was the ‘wise and trusted counselor’ of Homer’s Odyssey, but the role of mentor has been around since long before Ancient Greek times. In its general sense a mentor describes someone who is willing and able to pass on their experience and guidance to someone who is learning the ropes. This ancient relationship is usually, but not necessarily, between an older person and a younger person, because the mentor’s wisdom is conventionally acquired with age, but this is not necessarily the case. Within groups and organizations a mentor-mentee relationship can be an informal one, and does not require that the mentor is a recognized leader within the group. Leadership and positive mentorship are unfortunately not synonymous.

In a professional sense, clients usually seek mentors when they need someone to guide them on a path that is new to them, and they naturally turn to someone who has walked the same path before. This is usually a long-term arrangement and the mentor’s job is to support the mentee as they grow and learn in their new role. The mentor does not provide step-by-step instructions or tell the mentee what to do, she is there to advise, offer feedback, share experience, act as a sounding board, recommend resources and help shape the mentee’s development.

Thought here are overlaps between mentorship and coaching, there are also key distinctions. Coaching is often a shorter-term relationship that works on a specific topic or need. The coach’s role is to help the client develop the skills and capabilities needed to achieve transformation in the topic, not guide and support the client in their long-term development, which is a mentorship focus. Coach’s, therefore, do not need to have specific experience of the client’s problem to be able to shift the client’s relationship with that problem. Mentorship, however, relies on this mentor’s unique and specific experience of the client’s challenges.

What should I look for when choosing a mentor?

Expereince

When choosing a mentor, experience in your area of need is critical. A good mentor has many extra skills that allow them to guide you and support you as you navigate your new territory, but their experience is their most fundamental gift. It is their expert knowledge of the landscape that you will draw on time and time again in the mentoring relationship.

Credentials

Because mentors are not technically coaches, it is not necessary to seek mentors with credible certification through an organization like the International Coach Federation (ICF). As mentioned above, your deciding factor will be the mentor’s resume and experience, though many mentors also take on coaching training in order to provide greater impact. For a reliable assessment of those coaching credentials an ICF accreditation is relevant, but not for the mentorship itself.

Fit

Mentors and mentees can build close bonds and it is important to find someone with whom you feel an intuitive potential for trust and connection. Of course, you also need to feel confident that the mentor knows their stuff and has the ability to pass that experience and knowledge on to you. The best way to do this is to request a short free introductory session that will allow you and the mentor to get a feel for your potential fit.

Access

You may prefer to meet your mentor face-to-face, but if you are comfortable with a virtual mentoring relationship your options in terms of choosing a mentor suddenly multiply. With online mentoring you are able to access a world of choice and find the right mentor for your needs – the person who has the exact experience you’re looking for at the right price.

A mentor is not…

A coach

A coach has specific training and skills in unlocking a client’s potential around a specific need or problem. These are usually applied in relatively short-term programs that help the client access their own capacities. A mentor works on a longer-term basis and shapes the client’s progress through feedback, guidance and experience, not direct intervention.

A personal assistant

The mentor doesn’t do the work, you do. The mentor’s role is to guide you in the right direction, not to dictate every step or perform tasks for you. Working with a mentor requires that you apply the mentor’s advice, but the ‘how’ is up to you. That is how you learn in the process, and the more you put in the more you’ll get out.