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Issue Date: January 2008

Mentoring, coaching or training?

1 January 2008

The question I am considering today is: My employees are requesting coaching sessions. This approach seems to have become quite fashionable but is it always the best method or are there times when mentoring or training are more appropriate?
This is a very topical question and one we are asked frequently by our clients. To ensure we are on the same page, I include definitions commonly accepted in SA. According to COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of SA):
Coaching is "a professional, collaborative and outcomes-driven method of learning that seeks to develop an individual and raise self-awareness so that he or she might achieve specific goals and perform at a more effective level."
Mentoring is "a partnership in which a mentee is assisted in making significant advances in knowledge, perspective and vision in order to develop their full potential; the mentor's wisdom is utilised by the mentee to facilitate and enhance new learning and insight".
Training is domain specific, the trainer sets the agenda and even when training is 'learner-centred' the majority of outcomes are pre-determined by the trainer.
To explore whether coaching is appropriate for your team members firstly consider the following question: "What is your best hope for each individual?" On a competence scale where 0 means they are a novice and 10 means they are completely competent to achieve your best hopes for them, where are they? The lower the level of competence the more directive the intervention needs to be. Training is the most directive and coaching the least directive. So when competence is low, training is appropriate and as competence develops mentoring should kick in to provide encouragement and support as well as expert input to continue growing competence.
Coaching is most appropriate for competent individuals who need to be challenged by goals that stretch them, and who need to be more aware of how to apply their own talents, values and motivators to achieve their goals. Coaching supports the person to make the right choices and decisions and grow in confidence to take on responsibility.
Secondly, in collaboration with your team member, consider how commited he/she is to achieve what is required of him/her using a scale from 0 to 10. Commitment is facilitated by aligning personal and organisational agendas. It is therefore useful to consider how aligned the individual's best hopes for him/herself are with what you as their leader require of them. Developing commitment requires encouragement and support. Coaching addresses alignment and commitment and is the approach that is most supportive of the individual and his/her best hopes. Mentoring is also supportive, even though the mentor may give advice and share knowledge to enable the individual to become more effective within his/her current context. Training is more directive than supportive and not usually designed to address commitment. There is a strong movement to make training more learner-centred and to follow training with coaching or mentoring to improve the individual's application of the specific learnt knowledge.
So to summarise, coaching is most appropriate for competent individuals who have the potential to be stretched to new heights. This is reached through an increase in confidence, and commitment through alignment of purpose and values, and a greater ability to influence through heightened awareness of self and others and a more integrated life. Coaching is used effectively in combination with training, and a mentor with well-developed coaching skills is worth his/her weight in gold.
My approach to answering questions:
As a coach I always work from the liberating stance that my client has the answer to an issue and is the best person to structure a solution. Coaching stimulates thinking and helps you to view things from different perspectives.
I intend to respond to the questions posed to me in a way that will support these principles and will facilitate you, the reader, in finding the best answer. How I respond will stimulate your thinking, impacting your way of looking at yourself, people and situations rather than providing you with the answer.
Mary Gardner
Mary Gardner
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