Do I need a coach or a mentor?

A question that comes up a lot in discussions about personal and professional development is the difference (or not) between a coach and a mentor. I personally believe there are a number of distinctions, but there is certainly no universal agreement on this.¬†Ultimately, it’s just semantics…¬†as long as you know what you want and you find the right person to help, who cares what you call it?

Two questions to consider, however:

Do I have a specific goal or goals in mind that I would like help to achieve?

The goal could be as simple as making more sales or as ambitious as starting a new career. Either way, coaching tends to be more goal oriented, focussed on getting you from where you are now to where you want to be. By contrast, mentoring is usually less concerned with specific goals and more concerned with general advice and guidance. For this reason mentoring partnerships typically have a longer duration than coaching, although coaching may be helpful many times through an individual’s life, with the same or different coaches.

Do I want to work with someone with specific knowledge of my situation or someone independent?

Mentoring partnerships are typically based around a more experienced individual providing advice and guidance to a less experienced individual. This is often based on their own knowledge and experience of the same organisation or industry. Coaching does not require specific industry or organisational experience and uses questioning to help the individual find their own solutions rather than offering opinion or direction.
Whether you need a coach or a mentor however, finding the right person to help is equally critical. I do not subscribe to the view that it is less important for a coach to make a strong connection with their client than a mentor. Trust is the foundation of all great partnerships so make this your key criteria in deciding whether the relationship is the right one for you.