Why We All Need a Coach or Mentor

Coaching and Mentoring Two Different Approaches

Coaching and mentoring are two valuable tools for professional development that can help us unlock our full potential and achieve success. Yet, when I talk to L&D professionals, many say it would be great to have one, but they don’t have the time or have never seriously thought about the concept. And, it’s not without irony that while we say we aren’t focused on finding a coach or mentor for ourselves – many are in the process of developing mentor programs in their own organizations.


But before I get into the importance of having someone to lean on let’s work out the differences between the two terms. The terms coaching and mentoring seem to be used interchangeably – but they are very different approaches with very different goals. 

Picture being on a football team. What is the importance of having a team coach and a veteran player mentoring your game?

Your coach helps you identify your strengths and weaknesses, develop a game plan, and provide feedback and support as you work to improve your skills. The goal is to win games. 

Meanwhile, your mentor, the veteran player, provides you with a wealth of knowledge and experience from their time on the field, sharing tips and strategies that can help you avoid mistakes, tackle barriers and achieve success. The goal is to have a successful overall football career.

Very different approaches with very different goals. 

Taking Personal Development Seriously

So why is it that, as an industry, many only pay lip service to the concept of professional growth and development for ourselves but lament the lack thereof with our organizations?

Because according to Forbes: 76% Of People Think Mentors Are Important, But Only 37% Have One

Here’s what I hear when talking about this subject to other L&D peeps:

  • I don’t have time to work with a coach or mentor.
  • I don’t have the money for a professional coach.
  • “I’ve got this handled” (Not seeing the benefit).
  • No one understands my work. I’m in a unique position.
  • I don’t feel comfortable talking about my weaknesses. This puts me in the bad position at work.
  • I’m too old to find a mentor.

All valid if taken in this exact context. However, if we dig deeper, some root issues are at play.

  • I don’t have time: I value other activities more than my own growth and development.
  • I don’t have the money: My growth and development isn’t worth the investment nor the time to find free or low-cost options.
  • I’ve got this handled: Do as I say, not as I do.
  • No one understands my work: I don’t want to spend the time to find a good match for me.
  • I don’t feel comfortable talking about my weaknesses: I’m scared and vulnerable, and I don’t want to deal with these feelings.
  • I’m too old to find a mentor: I know all I need to know.

There are choices to be made. The key is accepting accountability for not seeking or accepting guidance.

When it comes to professional development, it’s important to challenge our innate resistance to change. This means keeping an eye out for opportunities to grow, and acquiring new skills – all while still fulfilling our current responsibilities.

However, it’s essential to acknowledge that this requires embracing discomfort and being willing to try new things repeatedly, even if it means feeling like a beginner. Despite the potential discomfort, pushing beyond our comfort zones to achieve our goals and become the best version of ourselves is crucial. And in order to do so, we all need help.

Finding a Coach or Mentor

Okay, now that I have your attention and, hopefully, added “Find a coach or mentor” to your to-do list. Now what?

The first step is to find a mentor you connect with on a personal level. Look for someone whose style, approach, and mannerisms align with your own. It’s like having a more experienced, successful version of yourself to guide you. 

While it may seem counter-intuitive, you may want to seek out a mentor with a completely different style from your own. While their approach may feel uncomfortable initially, they can help you see things through a different lens and provide strategies to expand your current skill set. Ultimately helping you emerge as a stronger professional.

And who doesn’t want that?

I would also encourage you to have more than one mentor or, as in the opening analogy, find a coach and a mentor. Each guiding force in your life brings unique skills and expertise to the table, making them a valuable resource when you need support or guidance.

Looking Beyond the Office (or Industry)

Finding the perfect mentor can be challenging, but connecting with someone who can truly change your life is possible with the right approach.

  1. Join a community of peers. LinkedIn and Facebook groups are out there by the dozens, filled with like-minded people. The Learning Rebels Community, as an example, focuses on building connections and capabilities.
  2. Take a closer look at your LinkedIn contacts. You are connected with these people for a reason, perhaps your next coach or mentor is within this group!
  3. Go to networking events. I know. Ewwww. But many times we blow off networking events without really giving them a shot. Sure, you have to put yourself out there, but you never know who you will meet. Take a look at this example from Chris Coladonato.
  4. Go to conferences. Yes, some can be costly. However, many offer volunteer arrangements. This is the place to find a good coach. Someone to help you upskill, or develop a new skill. You might even make a connection that leads to a new gig.
  5. Speaking of volunteering. Volunteer! You never know who you may discover at the local animal shelter, food pantry, or library.

You don’t have to meet a mentor at work, or at a networking event. You can meet them anywhere. If you are genuine in your connections with people, more opportunities open up – and not just for mentorships, but opportunities for potential employers.  So keep your eyes open. You never know who might be standing next to you.

Being a Good Mentee

I know I’m probably singing to the choir here, as many of us have written mentoring guidelines and tips, but for giggles, I’m going to throw out a few that stand out as a hard stop if you want your relationship to be successful.

Set your goals. With your mentor, establish clear goals and outcomes. Without specific outcomes, staying focused on what matters most becomes difficult. If you don’t measure progress to determine your progress, achieving your desired results can be challenging.

Be prepared: Never attend a formal mentoring session without first preparing for it. Remember, these sessions are for your benefit, so you must put in the work to make the best use of your time. For example, review the notes from your last meeting. List the questions you want to ask. Know the topic you want to address.

This is a two-way street: While your mentor is responsible for imparting knowledge, you should also drive the conversations. As you learn from the mentor’s expertise, the mentor can also benefit from your fresh ideas and perspectives. This dynamic creates a feedback loop that can lead to new insights and breakthroughs for both parties. By approaching mentoring as a two-way street, you are creating a more productive and meaningful win-win relationship.

Take constructive criticism: Here’s the hard bit for many people. Being open to criticism from your mentor. Many times we seek a mentoring relationship that is an unconscious “echo chamber.” However, learning how to handle negative feedback is a key part of the growth process, and it’s only by being open to constructive criticism that you can make the most of your mentorship relationship. 

However, it’s important to remember that there’s a difference between constructive and destructive criticism. The former is intended to help you find solutions, while the latter only highlights problems. Keeping an open mind and focusing on finding solutions can help you overcome obstacles and continue growing. And if it isn’t working out at the end of the day, you can find someone else you can better connect to.

To Wrap This Up

The ability to acquire new skills and knowledge quickly and continually is crucial to success in a world of rapid change. Finding a good mentor or coach to help you can make all the difference.

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Shannon Tipton

Shannon Tipton

As Owner of Learning Rebels, Shannon Tipton is a skilled learning strategist, content developer and International speaker. Shannon has over 20 years of leadership experience developing successful learning strategies and infrastructures for training departments within organizations in North America, Europe and Korea.

Shannon works with people and organizations to develop learning solutions that brings actual business results. Recognized as bringing real-world expertise into the learning field, Shannon integrates technologies and social learning tools to strengthen workplace alignment, enhance collaboration and increase learning connectivity.

As author of “Disruptive Learning” Shannon frequently speaking at conferences across North America and Europe and ranks as one of the top 100 L&D influencers on Twitter (@stipton).

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