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Leadership Development

How to Choose Coaching or Mentoring For Leadership Development


Supplement Leadership Development With Coaches and Mentors

In the realm of leadership development programs, coaching and mentoring serve distinct, but related purposes. It falls to HR and L&D professionals to find ways to maximize each medium for the most beneficial outcome for participants and their situations.

We see our clients asking themselves what development goals are best for a coaching engagement? When should you enlist a mentor instead? What is the difference between coaching and mentoring? 

Coaching is defined by the International Coach Federation as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

Mentoring is a relationship between two people focused on transferring knowledge by linking a leader to another more experienced colleague who can give guidance in navigating the unique aspects of the organization or industry. It facilitates the sharing of knowledge, expertise, skills, insights, and experiences through collaborative dialogue.

When Should Development Programs Use Coaching?

Development programs frequently enlist coaching or group coaching as part of a leadership development experience to give leaders more personal attention and reflection during the program. Participants hold the answers within themselves and work with the coach as a guide while they define their path forward.

The Conference Board’s Global Executive Coaching Survey* reports that coaching is optimal to:

  • Identify gaps and blind spots
  • Build self-awareness
  • Increase confidence and resilience
  • Strengthen critical leadership skills
  • Strengthen relationships across the organization
  • Retain top talent

Leaders can leverage a one-on-one coaching session to individualize their assessment results and skills learned as well as how best to apply the concepts in their environments. Additionally, by working with a great coach, leaders have a first-hand model of what good coaching looks like.

Ultimately, coaching is important because it encourages practice: by thinking through and planning how to handle various situations with a coach, the leader builds new skills and learns to better handle unknown or unplanned situations.

How Coaching Benefits Leaders

For example, one coaching client had been recently promoted into a new VP role for the first time. While her technical knowledge was top of class, she was entering a new social sphere and interacting with highly experienced executives.

Her organization had a coaching process used to help develop individual leaders going through transitions, such as a promotion into a new role. The program includes a 360-feedback report, individual action plan, and a series of eight follow-on coaching sessions.

After viewing her 360-assessment results, her coaching focus for the remaining year was 1) to identify the formal and informal networks she needed to navigate in a highly matrixed company and 2) practice building relationships and expanding her network. Along the way, we explored her natural personality style, discussed her concerns about networking, and worked to overcome a self-identified tendency to wear her heart on her sleeve. A year in, this client reported greater confidence in her position and a larger and more dynamic network of individuals with whom she could collaborate.

When Should Development Programs Use Mentoring?

Mentoring is a more informal relationship focused on knowledge transfer within an organization or industry. It is used to link a leader to another colleague who can present advice or guidance about how best to navigate the unique aspects of the organization.

The relationships developed through mentoring are typically based on the mentor giving guidance to a younger, newer employee. An established leader is able to expose high-potential leaders to other parts of the business, important historical knowledge about the organization, or even additional knowledge in the industry.

Simply put, mentoring is focused on knowledge transfer and it is especially important for developing Millennial leaders who prefer development via experiences, opportunities, mentoring, and stretch assignments. According to Deloitte’s 2016 Millennial Survey**, Millennials intending to stay more than five years are two times as likely to have a mentor than those not intending to stay, so it’s clear that mentoring makes a difference.

How Mentoring Impacts Leaders

One young professional had recently moved to a new position in a completely different industry from his previous experience. The VP of Human Resources saw an opportunity to engage this man in a leadership development program she was promoting for next-generation leaders where, in addition to assessments and a cohort model for training, each participant was matched with a mentor for a year.

Not only did the mentoring relationship help with this professional’s onboarding to the company, it also facilitated his acquisition of industry knowledge in this new context. He reported enhanced confidence and competence and cited his mentoring relationship as the primary source of his growth.

Organizations that choose coaching and/or mentoring for leadership development face a variety of decisions, from choosing which is best to deciding how frequently mentoring or coaching engagements should occur. What is certain is that mentoring and coaching are incredibly important opportunities in your development mix because they help leaders to actively learn from others and to personalize and practice new skills outside of the classroom.

*The Conference Board’s Global Executive Coaching Survey can be found here: https://www.conference-board.org/publications/publicationdetail.cfm?publicationid=7274 
**Deloitte's 2016 Millennial Survey can be found here: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/About-Deloitte/gx-millenial-survey-2016-exec-summary.pdf
Photo by Denise Johnson on Unsplash

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Lauren Parkhill

Lauren Parkhill leads the marketing team in creating creative content that helps organizations develop their leaders and teams.