Misconceptions around mentoring abound – but here are the ones we have come across most frequently
I often hear people talk about mentoring and coaching. While I listen, I realise that there is a lot of confusion. In particular, there are a high number of misconceptions around mentoring. Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones.
Misconception #1 : Confusing Mentoring, Coaching and Advising
I was in a meeting recently and a man used the words mentor and coach interchangeably. I asked him what process he was involved in. He laughed, slightly embarrassed, and it turns out he was “having lunch” with a junior associate in his network. Now a senior leader having a chat with someone much less experienced can be hugely valuable. An experienced person can give excellent advice in 10 minutes or even less.
But having a chat is having a chat. A mentoring relationship requires focused input from the mentee. It is essential to have both clear goals and a commitment to hold them accountable for outcomes. If either party does not commit to that process, some would suggest that it is simply an advisory relationship. That is not to say it won’t be helpful, but it is not mentoring and it’s certainly not coaching.
Merriam Webster tells us “A coach is one who instructs or trains “ and “a mentor is “a trusted counsellor or guide.” Mentoring implies a process, rather than a one-off lunch. Coaching is something else all together. In today’s environment it implies a skills-based qualification and training. Senior managers claiming they are coaching and mentoring might sound great and important, but that exaggeration is helping to add to the misconceptions around mentoring in particular.
Differences between coaching and mentoring
Here is a chart we have drafted to help you out.
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Misconception #2 : A mentor will get you promoted
In your early career, a mentor can certainly help boost your career. They can give you the best advice at the right time, plus they can help you to extend your network and enhance your skills. This means that you could get promoted as a result of the relationship, but it’s you who needs to make the effort and take the initiative. A sponsor is a door-opener. They are the person who will hold you accountable to produce your best performance. It is a sponsor who will take their professional reputations by pro-actively vouching for you. A mentor talks to you, while a sponsor talks about you. A mentor boosts your performance, while a sponsor accelerates your career.
In Mentor, Coach or Sponsor? we described the relationship in this way: “Generally, although not always, a sponsor will find you. Their power lies in their organizational clout and their ability to open professional doors in terms of assignments, new roles and networking contacts. You will need to look outside your immediate circle to see who will be a valuable connection.”
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Misconception #3 : I’m too senior to have a mentor
No one is too senior to have a mentor. This is yet another one of the major misconceptions around mentoring. Even CEOs have trusted counsellors or guides. They could be a retired executive, or even a cohort of peers. At a certain level, any person who doesn’t set up their own personal advisory board is being short sighted. In today’s ever-changing business environments, where navigating ambiguity is part of every day life, it is becoming increasingly important to receive input from a range of advisors.
Misconception #4 : I’m too young to be a mentor
It is possible to be a mentor at any point in your career. Entry level employees can be part of peer mentoring groups. This is where new employees share career experiences and support each with their first forays into the world of business. And let’s not forget reverse mentoring! This is a brilliant way for senior leaders to tap into the lower levels of their organisations, so they can find out what is going on and stay in touch. Mentoring is frequently a two-way street, if the process is treated properly.
If you want to progress your career, take a look at our Mentoring Services. We have women from a variety of backgrounds, so you can find the right mentor for you.