How to coach like a mentor

“What? Kirsten, you must be kidding! Coaches only coach, they never give advice, they don’t mentor — didn’t you tell us not to give advice until it came out of our ears?” Yup. You are right. AND there are situations in which coaching is not the optimal modality for the development of a client. Sometimes it makes sense to mix coaching and mentoring, or coaching and training.

In one of our meetups a graduate brought a very interesting case: She was coaching a leader whose ideas of leadership did not seem to fit his team and his situation. He thought that giving no guidance at all would really work to motivate his team. Our coach friend quite understandably had a very strong intuition that this would backfire. The conundrum was she also did not want to set up the client for failure. (And if you believe in such things, you might observe a very nice parallel process – the leader does not want to guide and neither does the coach.)

These type of situations may happen whenever the coach has some expertise (coaching expertise, leadership expertise, cross-cultural expertise etc.) that could be brought in very nicely in a mentoring process, but don’t technically have a place in coaching. Maybe the coach was even hired because they have this kind of expertise, but then their hands are tied because of their idea of what the coach role requires.

So, what can you do as a coach to preempt such situations? Chris Bekker and I came up with a possible structure for coaching programs when expertise might be helpful:

Session 1: Coaching for goal setting and resource activation

In the first session, the coach and the client can determine exactly what the goal of the coaching process is. What does the client want to be (even) better at? When the client has learned this, what will be better? Who will notice? What will they be noticing? They can also talk about what the client already knows how to do. What are the client’s thoughts around this? What were some “sparkling moments” and last but not least: “what does the client want to learn as a next step?”

Session 2: Mentoring

If the client develops concrete questions that might benefit from the coach / mentor to bring in some expertise, the coach / mentor now knows exactly what the client wants to know. The coach / mentor can prepare some ideas and bring them to the session. I would start the session by appreciating what the client is already able to do and by acknowledging their will to develop before I give my ideas. If it is possible to brainstorm with the client, all the better. The session might end with the client deciding to experiment with something.

Session 3: Follow-Up coaching

In this coaching session, coach and client go back to being coach and client. The coach can ask what the client has tried, what worked, what didn’t and where the client wants to go next. This can go on for as many sessions as is useful.

Last session: Review

In the last session, coach and client can reflect on the process and harvest all the learnings. What has the client developed, how have perspectives shifted, what will the client do, think, feel next.

Chris and I thought that this could be a great structure for modalities like leadership coaching or project coaching or even agile coaching, basically for all situations in which coaching and mentoring may be mixed. By having a separate session for the “expertise sharing”, the coach is not tempted to share expertise all the time and the client’s expectations are also clear: There is one session for “advice” and the rest of the sessions are for coaching.

What do you think? We’d love to hear. If you want to bring your own cases, learn about our courses or simply hang around with a bunch of cool people, join us for our weekly free meetup and exchange:

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