Mentoring and Coaching

-Commander VK Jaitly

These two words are quite commonly used in our day today life and many times interchangeably also. Some people feel that there is no difference between the two or there is a very thin line between the two. The fact is that the two are different and distinct but there is definitely an overlap in what all constitutes mentoring and what all constitutes coaching. Nobody can deny the fact, how the performance of a cricket or hockey team starts improving under the guidance of a good coach.

Mentoring and Coaching involves influencing, helping, instructing, motivating and leading in order to improve the performance of the mentee or the one who is being coached. In coaching, the focus is on performance improvement of the individual in a particular field of sports, business or some other specific area while in mentoring, the focus is on overall development and success of the individual in his or her life. So coaching becomes comparatively a short term project while mentoring is an ongoing long term operation.

Coaching has to be in a more of a structured approach while mentoring generally doesn’t have a structured approach. So coaching has a set agenda and a goal while mentoring may not have a set agenda and any specific goal. In mentoring, the mentor is considered to be a friend, philosopher and guide in all matters, he/she may like to seek advice.

Generally, this relationship between mentor and mentee is based upon mutual respect and the trust mentee has on his mentor. The mentee has the confidence that in case of any problems, difficulties or emergencies, he has someone to fall back upon.

So it is very important when you chose a mentor for yourself or your son or daughter. The mentor even impacts the character of the mentee. Selecting a coach is also very important but then it is only for a specific art, sports or business trait. So a wrong choice of coach may only result into only failure in that area, loss of time, money, opportunity or substandard performance. But the wrong choice of mentor can be disastrous. It can even ruin your life. So one should be very careful while selecting a mentor. On the other hand a great mentor can create miracles in our lives and propel you to great heights.

Let me quote the examples from Mahabharta. The coach for all Pandavas and Kauravas was Dronacharya. His coaching was identical for all his pupils. But each one of them acquired expertise of different levels in different areas depending upon their individual liking, interest, commitment, devotion and dedication. But the mentor for Arjuna was Lord Krishna and the mentor chosen by Duryodhana was Shakuni, the wily manipulator. And all of us know the result of Mahabharta war.

So a wrong mentor who is the only one, you can fall back upon when in doubt can cause unimaginable misery. While a great mentor is a solace in your life and smoothens the ripples you may come across in your life. So check thoroughly if you have a mentor in your life and this mentor is really a great man who can show you the right path. Be very selective in choosing a mentor. It may so happen that you may not find a great idealistic mentor who can meet your all expectations. In that case, be selective in accepting the advice of your mentor. Use your own intellect, question the mentor if not satisfied with the advice and accept the advice only once you are fully satisfied. The way Arjuna did just before the famous Mahabharata War and questioned Lord Krishna and all his doubts were satisfied and the compilation of those questions and answers became the world famous scripture, The Bhagwadgita.

You may seek mentoring in different areas by different mentors. And at different stages of life, different people could be your mentors. I had a teacher Sh Basakhi Ram ji at my school at Jammu who was a great teacher/coach for the subjects he taught us. But as a great mentor he nurtured us like a farmer does for tender saplings. I developed a great admiration and respect for him and he also took special pains in mentoring us when the word mentor was not even in my dictionary. When I landed at IIT Kharagpur, I found two great mentors in Prof MN Faruqui and Prof YP Singh. They were my local guardians as well as my Gurus. I approached them whenever I needed some advice.

At school and college level, the children are like raw clay and a great teacher can mentor them and mould them to be great citizens, great scientists, great managers, great sportsmen and even great leaders and in fact good human beings. A real great teacher always goes beyond normal teaching and coaching. He takes additional pains and efforts to mentor his pupils without any expectations in return. He/she showers his/her love, affection and guidance to mould those minors.

A good number of us who are reading this article may have adequate experience to don the role of mentors. As highly experienced individuals, some of us are embodiment of knowledge, experience and skills in some particular area and may be fully competent to be great mentors. We shall be failing in our duty if we don’t mentor those who may need our guidance. But this has to be a selfless action without expecting anything in return.

Remember that a great mentor should be a person with highly positive attitude with great personal qualities and a great emotional quotient. A great coach/mentor should have excellent communication skills. He/she should be highly motivated, enthusiastic, energetic and goal oriented. Creativity and patience are his/her ornaments. He/she should obviously be technically competent in the area of coaching/mentoring. A great coach/mentor has to set an example for his/her pupils.

If you are a senior person in your company with a lot of experience, there may be a need from time to time to mentor junior staff. You shall have to first identify the performance gaps for your team members. You may divide performers in three categories namely poor, average and superstars. These categories are not to be announced openly otherwise it may dampen the morale of some people categorized as poor. Allocate your attention and resources to address each group of performers separately.

Feedback is an important part of mentoring and coaching. While giving feedback, initiate dialogue with some positive statements. Tell the person exactly what you observed. The target should be the performance and behavior and not the individual. Explain exactly how you feel about the behavior and its impact. Reaffirm that individual accepts his/her mistake. Show your full support to the individual and ask for possible solutions from the individual himself or herself. And finally get a commitment from the person to improve his/her behavior. Make sure that the individual does not lose self-esteem while giving feedback.