The Difference Between a Coach and a Mentor? Is There One?

I’m often approached by family members who need a coach.   They may have a mentor who is sometimes, a family member. So why is that not enough? This lies in the fundamental difference between the mentor and the coach. A mentor can pass on knowledge, provide advice and in some cases, “tell you what to do”. They are directive. A coach, however, is meant to unlock the answers that we all have inside, if only we knew it. Their role is to ask the right questions, reframe what you may perceive as a lack of choice and help you to see that we all have within us the capacity to choose. For example, we can:

  • change the system (often difficult)
  • change the person or part of the system that is causing us distress
  • change our reaction to that system

The latter is always within our capability so to do.

Often times, a coach will help you to become “unstuck” and to envisage a future that is different. They might ask, if things were different:

  • what would you feel?
  • what would you hear?
  • what would you see?

A mentor may also be part of the family business, such as a non-family executive. Sometimes they may be too close to be perceived as objective. Perhaps the mentor themselves feels compromised on confidential issues. Perhaps they have their own agendas which must also be respected. But coaches are neutral and you can be assured of their confidentiality in discussions. They help to build your self-esteem by having YOU find the answers. But rest assured that coaches are not therapists. They may use counseling techniques but some issues do belong in therapy. A good coach should understand these boundaries, be able to articulate them and make recommendations for additional help should you need it. Most importantly, a good coach should be willing to work alongside any other mentor/therapist you might work with. All for the good of YOU.

 For more insight into how coaches can assist in the family firm, please look out for our webinar on July 27, 2011.  For additional information click here.

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