In the past few months I was asked several times to explain the difference between coaching and mentoring. Many new small business owners enthusiastically responded to mentoring. In a nutshell, mentoring provides a judgment-free space to discuss uncertainties and offer Socratic questioning. This appeals to new business owners who are in the process of changing hats: putting down their employee hat and trying on the right entrepreneurial hat!
Differentiators between coaching and mentoring
Let’s be clear first what coaching and mentoring is. To make it easy for you, I have put information from Management Mentors into a simple matrix.
There are three basic reasons why mentoring may fit your need. I am describing these reasons briefly in this blog post.
1. Individual growth and maturity
You can choose an informal mentor within your circle of friends, family, or business network or participate in a formal mentoring program. In either case, this informal relationship focuses on you as a person and your career.
A mentor does not provide answers and solutions. Rather, questions are asked to come to your own solutions and conclusions. The entrepreneurial learning curve is steep, and personal development is a natural part of this. The safe space a mentor offers helps you bouncing ideas around, asking any questions that come up and sharing experiences without judgment.
2. A source of information and a Socratic questioner
Where coaching centers around a teacher-pupil relationship, mentoring is based on a two-way mutually beneficial relationship where mentor and mentee are equals. As mentioned above, self-discovery is central and a mentor shares knowledge and experience with strategic focus.
Mentors ask key questions to help you dig beneath the surface of your ideas. In other words, you start to think more systematic instead of fragmented. I call this “coming to the why of what you do or want to do”, Wikipedia calls it Socratic questioning. This type of questioning centers on challenging assumptions, finding evidence for arguments, offering alternative perspectives, and questioning the questions.
3. Trying on the entrepreneurial hat at your own pace
New entrepreneurs start a new business partly because they no longer find that the employee hat fits them well. This goes back to personal development and maturity as you gain life experiences. Coaching is about teaching a specific skill in a certain time frame, whereas mentoring focuses on “thinking things through” at the pace you unawares choose.
Why I believe in mentoring
I have had the opportunity to have few mentors in my life. One was my Godmother who I trusted completely and who saw me as a peer. Her apartment was my safe space where I was able to be who I was without judgment. We worked at my uncertainties and as a result I was able to break free when the time was right and chose the path I was destined for.