Which Do I Need: Coach, Mentor, Life-coach, or Counsellor?

“The only mistake you can make is not asking for help,” so said American cardiologist and writer, Sandeep Jauhar. And I won’t argue with that. When deciding to reach out, knowing exactly who to reach out to can be confusing. Coaches, Life-Coaches, Mentors, and Counsellors all extol the benefits of their differing approaches. The definition of these approaches varies between countries, organisations and even individuals. Indeed, there is at least one US coaching authority that defines ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’ in exact reverse of the way the CIPD does here in the UK. Here, then, is my guide to understanding the different terminology.

Firstly, why Coaching and Mentoring?

To give you a brief metaphor: in the seemingly endless pursuit of personal and professional fulfilment, not seeking guidance is akin to refusing to ask for directions when lost in an unfamiliar city. You will certainly get to your destination, but the journey will most likely take longer and be more stressful than it needed to be. At some point we all need advice or encouragement. The pertinent question here becomes less ‘What should I ask?’ and more, ‘Who should I ask?’

It is necessary then to explore what elements the four approaches share, how they differ, and what the inherent strengths of each is.

Commonalities, variances, and strengths

All four approaches, in whichever guise they take, require a private, one-on-one relationship. The focus remains on personal development with an emphasis on performance improvement. The coach or mentor can either come from within the organisation, or from outside it. Beyond this, they begin to differ.

Mentors Vs Coaches

With mentors, greater experience, seniority and thus usually age, are all essential factors. The job of a mentor is to reflect upon their own experiences and supply solutions for the individual. This is a key difference to the methodology of the coach. The coach specialises in providing the tools for the individual to decipher these solutions for themselves. As such, it is not the age or life experience of the coach that is important, but their expertise in providing these tools. Disparities go on to include how much focus is placed on personal life, rather than work life, how directive the approach of the coach or mentor is, and how long the relationship lasts. Generally, mentoring leads to the acquisition of solutions earlier, whereas coaching, though taking longer, develops within the individual a greater self-reliance.

Life Coaches Vs Counsellors

A counsellor will provide their professional assistance and guidance in resolving personal or psychological challenges. A life-coach, on the other hand, trains the individual to get past limiting beliefs, and equips them with the apparatus to overcome challenges and achieve goals. Used in conjunction, both are more potent than either used in isolation.

Every situation is different and calls for a particular blend of the skills deployed by a coach, mentor, life-coach & even counsellor. What is clear is the proven efficacy of all approaches and at all levels within an organisation. So in answer to the question “which do I need?” how much time do you have and how self-reliant do you want to be?

Graham Keen is a former CEO, CFO, business, and positive psychologist, skilled and experienced in blending the use of all four approaches. Get in touch with him here.

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