Eric Denniston, Managing Director, Denner Group International – 6/2013
Takeaways: What are the roles of mentors and life coaches? How to and why you should recruit them. How to ensure a healthy relationship with them. How to define what comes next.
Most of us are familiar with the word mentor, but have we really stopped to think about what a mentor should do, how a mentor should act, how a mentee (more properly a “protégé”) should act, and how a mentor and protégé should become a team and conduct themselves? Most likely not. Acting as a mentor is often taken too lightly. For example, a new employee is assigned a more senior employee as a mentor to “show him/her the ropes”. This is really more like training and not mentoring. A mentor is a trusted counselor or guide, while also being a tutor and coach.
That word “trusted” is key to the role. Trust, of course, is always earned, not given nor taken. A mentor must earn the trust of the protégé and that trust includes having a high level of ethics regarding the confidentiality of the relationship. It is becoming more common for adults in business to work with mentors who are from both inside and outside the business to help an individual improve and maintain the highest level possible of performance in his or her work. It is also becoming more acceptable for senior executives to openly admit to having one or more mentors, which not long ago was considered a negative stigma, a sign of weakness. The truth is that in our increasingly complex world, none of us is capable of doing everything perfectly or even with a high degree of proficiency, so we really do need some help along the way. And often that help needs to be of the highest caliber, and just as often, not from just one person. The confidential aspect of the relationship permits the protégé to really be candid in the sort of help he/she needs. The mentor needs to be sensitive to the protégé’s emotional needs but not to the point of being a therapist. There is a separate discipline for that and the mentor must have the capability of knowing where to draw the line, and be deliberate and clear about doing so.
Examples of mentors or coaches in a business or personal life environment can be found in numerous books written by well recognized business leaders around the world. In some cases they pay individuals to be in those roles. In other cases, the mentor/coach is someone within their company, and in other cases, the mentor or coach is simply a friend. One key trait among the best mentors and coaches is that they are diligent in ensuring they have no stake in the outcomes the protégé is seeking. This allows the mentor/coach to be highly objective in facilitating the protégé’s actions and decisions as a third party only interested in their protégé’s success.
The Role of a Life Coach
The role of mentor has taken on a new name in certain circles. Now we hear life coach and executive coach as commonly used terms to describe a mentor whose role is to “coach” an individual in a manner that encompasses both personal life goals and personal work goals. To quote Jack Canfield, widely read co-creator of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series and respected motivational speaker on personal fulfillment: “Of all the things successful people do to accelerate their trip down the path to success, participating in some kind of coaching program is at the top of the list”.
So, do you have a mentor or coach that you regularly check in with to help you overcome big challenges and keep you on track with your longer term objectives? Someone in whom you can comfortably confide and who has the acumen and guts to ask you, and help you ask yourself, those really tough questions? Like, “If you are not really happy with your job, what are you prepared to do to get your ideal job?”, and then help you work through the issues? This is what a mentor or life coach can do for you.
So now we might ask, “That sounds good but what if I don’t know anyone who can do this?” “How do I find such a person or persons?”
Most of us likely have people in our lives whom we have known and who have known us for many years. Sometimes they are friends, parents, or extended family like aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents; people for whom we have a lot of respect. That’s one place to start. There are also professionals who are devoted to exactly this kind of work. Being professionals, they expect to be compensated for their work, so we must ask ourselves if we will really reap benefits from such a relationship, and what the value of it is to us. Not necessarily in dollars, because we don’t make any money from getting health advice from our doctor – so this is similar. I suggest looking at this relationship as having a private teacher with you just about any time you need one.
Finding and recruiting a mentor or life coach should entail the same level of diligence as looking for a medical specialist. This is someone with whom you will be sharing some highly confidential things about your life and work, and you will be seeking really insightful advice. Therefore, the best mentors and life coaches have some experience in those roles and a ton of life experience in general. So yes, age matters. With it comes both knowledge and wisdom, both of which we, as protégé’s, must rely on. A solid and broad education is a major plus in a mentor or coach as is some measure of success in their chosen fields of endeavor.
Five Key Behaviors
Regardless of whether or not you have a hired mentor/coach or someone who will support you in this manner for free, here are some behaviors to consider.
1) Don’t abuse the relationship by whining and complaining about what is not working, ask for help on real issues and be as clear as possible about the outcomes you are seeking.
2) Be respectful of your mentor’s time, be brief and to the point.
3) Have a plan or agenda for each meeting and write down some notes or minutes about the next steps for you or the mentor, and agree to deadlines. If your mentor suggests actions for you to take, agree what you will follow through on and then report back on the results.
4) Use the easiest communication methods for both of you, whether it’s email, text, snail mail or phone calls.
5) Both of you be mindful of the confidentiality issue and agree to boundaries.
These are some tips that will help establish and sustain a really healthy relationship between you and your mentor/coach.
As with most things in life, it is also important to consider what comes next. Many mentor-protégé relationships last for many years and even for life. A mentor or coach is usually very interested in the long-term success of his/her protégé, so you can generally count on them being on board with you for the long term. If you keep challenging yourself and have exciting results, chances are good your mentor will be along for the whole ride. You may have other specialized mentors from time to time. I have two mentors, not family members, both are friends. One I have paid and has also helped me for free, the other helps me for free, but that could change. The experience of working with them has helped me deal with some tough life challenges and to learn how to be a good coach myself. I have one long-term client whom I coach on life issues and global business challenges, so I see results both as a coach and as a protégé.
I firmly believe that everyone deserves to give themselves the opportunity to explore working with a mentor or life coach from as early in their life as possible. It takes a certain amount of emotional maturity to work with a coach. A mentor/coach can be tough and critical but we need to remember that it comes from a deep and true sense of being there to help us. We need to be open to seriously exploring other people’s thoughts and ideas and not be dismissive of them.
I encourage you to take a journey to become the best that you can be with the support of a mentor or coach of your choice. I guarantee you won’t regret it, and you’ll ask yourself what you might have accomplished if you had done this sooner in your life.