If you’re looking to continue growing in your career or personal life, you may be wondering about the difference between coaching, mentoring and guiding, and whether you need support from a professional.
The short answer? Yes.
The long answer? Whether you are seeking coaching, mentorship, or guiding we’ll help you decide who to reach out to. No one style of support is right or wrong; each can provide different forms of advice or knowledge, and many people, including the Guides at Studio/E, can provide a combination of all three through our Expedition Program.
Defining Coaching, Mentoring, and Guiding
The difference between coaching and mentoring and guiding can be challenging to understand, in part because the terms are often used interchangeably. Because of their similarities, many people mistake them for synonyms. There are distinctions between the support each of these figures can provide, but an effective practitioner can provide all of the necessary support based on their stakeholders’ goals, knowledge, and needs.
Below is a simple explanation of each of these types of support, how they overlap, and how they are distinct.
Coaching is based on changing behaviors, harnessing an individual’s unique abilities, and achieving one’s full potential. You may benefit from coaching if you are hoping to unlock your potential so you can improve your performance and achieve your goals in a specific area of your life. A coach can help you achieve, especially when you have known, defined goals.
As you search for a coach, you should be looking for someone who is familiar with the area of your life you want to address, who knows the “rules” of that focus area, and who understands how to define success in that arena.
Mentoring is based on sharing skills, knowledge, and contacts to help an individual develop. You may benefit from mentorship if you want to develop and grow over time, particularly if your aim is to be more effective. A mentor can help you develop, especially when you’re working on your general development.
As you search for a mentor, you should be looking for someone who has developed their own wisdom through experiences, ideally that are similar to your own developmental path.
Guiding is based on sharing principles, practices, and opportunities for actions with an individual, so they can safely explore new things and begin to navigate unknown scenarios. You may benefit from guiding if you want to explore new values and possibilities, and hope to find someone who can empower you to do so. A guide can help you explore the unknown.
As you search for a guide, you should be looking for someone who has successfully traveled the path they are guiding others on. They should be familiar with your intended path, potential blockers, and solutions.
When to Seek Support
Here are a few scenarios on the difference between coaching and mentoring and guiding.
You want to get in shape, but you don’t know how.
A trainer at a gym could start by coaching you on how to achieve your fitness goals and begin to support you in changing your behaviors that do not contribute to your goals. They could then act as a guide by helping you explore new fitness routines, nutritional choices, and gym equipment that is unknown to you so you understand the value of these aspects of health.
You want to be on to the leadership team at your organization.
A leader, current or retired, could mentor you as you consider new skills to develop, how to embody the organization’s values, and who else to connect with to be successful in reaching your goal. After you have established that foundational knowledge, they could also coach you on meeting your goals and winning the promotion.
You have a project or goal you don’t fully understand or know how to execute.
A person could guide you by showing you to courageously explore new possibilities outside your comfort zone or industry, or they could teach you principles to think differently and create a new path to explore. Once you understand this new possibility or value, they could mentor you to help develop your skills and coach you on how best to take that information to others for positive outcomes.
Do you see a theme in the scenarios above? The same person can fulfill multiple roles — coach, mentor, and guide — based on what you need, your existing knowledge, your goals, and the overall situation. As you change or the situation changes, your support person can also shift and provide new value to you, based on your new objectives.
How to Choose Coaching, Mentoring, or Guiding
As you consider whether you would benefit most from coaching, mentoring, or guiding, ask yourself these questions:
What is your objective?
- Do you want to achieve a goal? Do you know how to measure your progress and how to achieve it?
- You may need a coach to help you unlock your potential and improve your performance in an already-familiar area.
- Do you want to develop yourself and your skills to reach new heights? Do you want to achieve a new level of competence in a certain area?
- You may need a mentor to help you grow to be more effective over time and unlock expertise.
- Do you want to safely explore something that is currently unknown to you?
- You may need a guide to help you find new perspectives, explore new possibilities, and uncover new value.
What is your current level of knowledge about your objective?
- Is it clear and known to you? Do you know what you hope to achieve?
- You may need a coach to help you reach your goal.
- Do you know where your knowledge gaps are? Do you need help bridging those gaps?
- You may need a mentor to help you develop beyond where you are now.
- Are you aware that “you don’t know what you don’t know” and you need help reaching the point of knowing?
- You may need a guide to help you safely explore the unknown.
How would you describe your need? How would you summarize your goal in one word?
- Do you want to achieve?
- You may need a coach.
- Do you want to develop?
- You may need a mentor.
- Do you want to explore?
- You may need a guide.
How long do you hope to be supported by this person? What is your estimated timeline?
- Do you expect a short-term engagement, between a few months and a year?
- You may need a coach to help you achieve your goals. You may end your coaching relationship once you have reached your potential.
- Do you expect a long-term engagement, at least until you no longer receive value from the relationship?
- You may need a mentor over the course of a few years, at least, to help you. You may part ways after you have developed your skills and can mentor others.
- Do you expect a short-term relationship, for a few months?
- You may need a guide over the course of a few months to help you explore safely. Your relationship as someone being guided may end after you have learned the principles of exploration or Exploratory Leadership.
Success with Balance and Vulnerability
You need the ability to achieve, develop, and explore to meet your personal and professional potential, meaning coaching, mentoring, and guiding will all be valuable to you throughout your life. If you focus too heavily on one of these abilities over the others, you will be incomplete.
For example, if you focus on achievement but not development, you will fail to grow and become competent in new areas; your lack of development will hinder your further achievement. If you focus on achievement and development but not exploration, you will become irrelevant as the world around you changes rapidly and you are unable to keep up; your exploration will help you better understand what is happening outside your personal world.
In order to truly meet your potential, you must be honest and vulnerable with yourself and those around you. What do you know? What is your goal? What do you need? By answering these questions, you will gain an understanding of what kind of support you need, who can provide it, and how to embrace your growth. That awareness will bring you clarity and opportunity.
As you continue to grow and develop, be mindful of your ability to give back. Great leaders grow and improve not only for themselves, but for those they lead. They aim to ensure the people around them can produce positive results and reach their own milestones. Once you have received the coaching, mentoring, or guiding you need, consider providing similar development, support, and assistance to those around you, so you can act as a coach, mentor, and guide for others.
Let Studio/E Guide You
At Studio/E, we primarily act as guides when we facilitate our Expedition Program. We choose to guide our explorers, rather than coach or mentor them, because many leaders don’t know how to safely and confidently explore the unknown. Our role is to guide them through exploration of new possibilities.
The Expedition Program is a three-month exploration of the unknown with a group of peers. Participants find new possibility and value throughout as they become Exploratory Leaders. When you participate in the Expedition Program, you will leave with the ability to motivate people (including yourself) to effectively travel into the unknown with clarity and confidence to discover more possibility. In turn, you can guide others along a similar path.
Join the Expedition Program
Find information on the Expedition Program, including program dates and application details, here.
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