Teachers, Mentors and Coaches

Posted Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Allen Slade

Who sparks your growth as a leader? Who triggers dramatic turnarounds in your career?

As kids, growth was our job, but someone else set the agenda. Adults, including our parents and teachers, helped us climb the ladder to maturity. As we climbed, we took more responsibility for our own learning. The college professor did not manage our days like the kindergarten teacher. After college, we became even more specialized in skills, more complex in thinking and more diverse in motivation.

So, who has the biggest role in your learning today? A teacher? A mentor? A coach?

Teachers impart knowledge based on their expertise. The best teachers are subject matter experts with strong platform skills. They know the material and they know how to deliver it. Yet, corporate training classes suffer from a lack of transfer of training back to the work situation. Traditional teaching does not impact adults like it impacts 5-year olds. Adults need individualized, experienced-based growth.

Mentors impart wisdom based on their experience. Mentoring can be a powerful experience, sharing personalized knowledge and advice customized to the needs of the mentee or protégé. Yet, mentoring tends to be hit or miss. Most formal mentoring relationships do not make it past the second meeting.

At the extreme, teaching and mentoring requires adult learners to suspend their disbelief in their own expertise and experience. Teaching and mentoring are built on a shaky assumption:

You do not know what you need or how to get it. You need an expert teacher or an experienced mentor to guide your learning.

Our adult mindset resists returning to this child-like belief. “He got schooled” is a taunt rather than an effective training strategy. “Listen to your parents” grates on teenagers, so it is not surprising that mentoring often misfires for adults.

Coaches are different. A coach believes you are the expert in your own situation. Instead of giving you the answer, a coach is more likely to ask questions. Instead of setting goals for you, a coach will help you define your own goals. Instead of holding you accountable, a coach helps you hold yourself accountable.

Coaches give up control to gain influence. As a professor, I required my students to show up at the appointed time and place, ready to discuss the assigned readings. But once the final grades were in, my control ended and my influence largely disappeared. As a coach, my influence is soft but lasting. As a coach, I don’t tell people what to do, how to do it or when it is due. I just ask questions and share distinctions. I request behavioral agreements, but I encourage my client to say no to my requests. I do not enforce the agreements. I merely ask about the impact of not following through. Yet, the impact of coaching can be life-long, resulting in new thinking patterns, more effective habits and changed values, attitudes, beliefs and expectations.

Bottom line: Training and mentoring have limited impact on experienced professionals, leaders and executives. Coaching is more likely to maximize your leadership influence or trigger a career turnaround.

There are situations that call for training or mentoring. Training works well for transfer of knowledge, like learning a new online application. Mentoring is great for new hires. However, for most adults in most situations, coaching is more powerful than either teaching or mentoring.

The difficulty with coaching is cost. In comparison to one-on-one sessions with a certified coach, classroom training is cheap. Mentoring is free.

Cost is important, but not the only consideration, especially when we seek life changing assistance. We don’t typically look for the cheapest medical care. We turn to our company for health insurance. We don’t depend on free legal advice. We budget to pay for an attorney.

If you seek leadership coaching, take advantage of what your company offers. You may have an internal coaching program or a personal development budget.

If you seek career coaching, budget for it. Your return, in increased salary and life satisfaction, will be worth the investment.

Don’t wait for someone else to decide what you need. If you think you would benefit from coaching, you are right. You are right, not because you agree with some expert on coaching. You are right because you are the expert on your own growth.

2 comments on “Teachers, Mentors and Coaches

  1. In the field of education, mentors of new teachers consider and include coaching as a component of their craft, are are trained accordingly. For specifics, read “Mentoring New Teachers, 3rd edition,” by Hal Portner, published by Corwin.

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