Leadership Coaching or Mentoring, What's the Difference?

It doesn’t take long to realize there’s more to running a small business than you thought. You might be doing fine but have one problem you just can’t seem to solve. A helping hand can be just what your business could use. But what kind of help do you need—leadership coaching or mentoring? Find out what the difference is and how each can support you in different ways.

Coaches are skill oriented

While both coaches and mentors can help you grow your business, they don’t necessarily help in the same way. Leadership coaches tend to focus on a specific area or problem, so the relationship tends to be time-bound and skill-based. Once the problem is solved, the relationship ends.

For example, say you have difficulty managing inventory. You run out of some items before they can be replenished, while others sit on your shelf for a long time before you need to reorder. A coach would help you to develop your skills for maintaining a more efficient inventory system. They would help you identify new ways to keep up with demand on popular items and determine how to better order those items that tend to age on the shelf.

A coach works with you to develop specific skills. Rather than give you the answers, some coaches expect you to reflect on your own experiences, come to your own solutions and draw up your own action plan. Others have specific training in an area and actively participate in strategy creation. You would likely have structured meeting times with the coach as they hold you accountable for implementing your plan.

Mentors are focused on relationship

In contrast, a mentor takes more of a long-term approach. The emphasis is on development over your entire career. That may include personal as well as professional development.

For example, early in your business, you might set a goal to become more confident when meeting with new customers. As you gain experience, your goal might shift to working toward a leadership role in the local chamber of commerce. At the same time, you might want to achieve more balance between your work and family life.

A mentor relies on their own personal experiences to help you work toward your goals. Typically, they were once in the same place you are now, so they have valuable insights to share. They might offer council on what you could do better.

You would meet with your mentor on an informal, as-needed basis. You’re in charge of setting the agenda—ask for advice, vent or float new ideas. The mentor then provides feedback. Results tend to come over time.

Which is best?

The answer to that question depends on your needs. If you’re a first-time entrepreneur, a mentor might be able to provide the broad advice needed at this stage in your career. As you gain more experience and have specific problems to solve, a coach might be more appropriate. Some individuals can act in a hybrid role and be both mentor and coach.

Whether you’re at a standstill or have a specific issue to address, small business owners can benefit from seasoned help. Depending on your need, a leadership coach or mentor can help you move forward.

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