Mentoring, Coaching, Councilling, Leading – is it all just a bit too mixed up

On any leadership course, I feel quite sorry for the set of enthusiastic delegates who tend to get thrown a barrage of different terms and taxonomies for what can be seen very overlapping functions.  Life isn’t that simple of course and most of us (well particularly me..) like to war multiple hats at the same time which can be confusing to our particular audience

One such area is as the title suggests is in the role you have when trying to “help” someone else.  Help is very subjective as well – one person’s help is another person’s hindrance potentially…
The reason for these different terms is because in text book land, its good to put a label on different things and different people and then analyze it to the point of distraction
First of all thee different functions are critical in the support of an individual’s development and I believe it is (as always) the blend of them that is the most powerful coupled with a tailored approach to that individual.  The style, in the end is the most important dimension as no matter what the message and what process or framework is followed, it has to be conducive for the receiver
So, here is the “Neil summary of these key roles” – all of which can be performed by the same person at the same time, if it is appropriate
Coach  – The role of coach,  I believe is the hardest and needs the most training.  The reason for this is that a coach should never offer an opinion, provide the answer or set direction to the individual being coached.  The effective coach, enables the individual to come up with the answer themselves through what can sometimes appear to be an awkward dialog at first.  Because of this a coaching relationship will typically be aligned to the individuals specific activity of work.  The confusion to the term is that in the sporting world – a coach does almost the opposite of all of these..
Mentor – A mentor on the other hand, has an opinion and will be quite happy to voice it to the mentee.  Hence the relationship between the mentor and mentee is a lot more “personal” as the discussion need to be treated in the manner expected.  The mentee should select their mentor based on what they believe to be the mentor’s qualities both in terms of their successes (and failures) in their career that will be relevant to the mentee.  Although I have seen it in different circumstances, I would assume that the mentor relationship is a much longer lasting one as it should be independent to a particular activity or program of work and quite often can last tens of years.  The subtext to this, is a shorter term mentor relationship can be created for a more transactional activity with the potential conclusion when it is finished that the relationship stops or indeed it continues in a broader sense.  There has been quite a lot of talk between informal and formal mentoring.  If no framework is offered then it really depends on the nature of the mentor/mentee themselves in terms of the level of formality that they both believe they require.  The other key dimension is that it should be a 2 way relationship – so if the mentor gains no value  because the discussion is always about the mentee this will end up in a very short term activity
Line Managers/People Management/Assignment managers – the easiest role to define as these will be task/assignment oriented and transactional in nature. May be easy to define – doesn’t mean it’s easy to do of course…
Counselling – not a role that should exist within the traditional business model but worth noting because if the discussion strays into this area, a big warning flags ought to be raised as these should be redirected to the appropriate channels.  Counselling is typically very similar to Coaching in the context, of not offering an opinion and helping the individual against a specific set of problems or issues. A good Coach will recognise when the conversation strays into this area and should stop it immediately.  This can happen inadvertently of course as quite often the reason why someone is struggling is because of a broader personal/non work area that they are struggling with
The most important message….the reason for all these roles is to maximise the support one person can give another against either a specific assignment or in a much wider role context.  In order to maximise this is both the functional competence but critically is the personal one to one empathy and alignment. It is only against this coupling will any positive progress be made…
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