Home Careers Mentoring and Coaching: Essential for Career Success
Mentoring and Coaching: Essential for Career Success

Mentoring and Coaching: Essential for Career Success

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By Dr. Kandis Boyd Wyatt
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics, American Public University

While the U.S. unemployment rate has declined from April 2020’s all-time high of 14.7%, Americans are finding new sources of income by starting new businesses, finding alternative work, applying for new jobs, and even choosing to retire and live off of savings.

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With these changes in the workplace come many questions, so I recently hosted an APUS podcast that focused on reinventing yourself. The guest host highlighted the importance of marketing yourself, developing an e-portfolio, using social media to research new positions, and using a coach and mentor to seek success.

In my 30+ year career, I must say the majority of these suggestions were foreign to me until recently. I had the naive mindset that if you worked hard, you would be rewarded financially and experience a rewarding and aggressive career progression.

But the sad reality is there are many factors that are essential to job success when you climb the corporate ladder, including building connections through networking, exercising political savvy and developing global insight. In 2020, hard work is not the only ingredient to a fruitful career, and the term ‘success’ can be defined in many forms as one climbs the corporate ladder.

In fact, the corporate ladder really isn’t a ladder. It’s more like a jungle gym where job seekers can move up, sideways, remain in the same place, jump on and off, and even move down over their career. That’s why mentoring and coaching are essential to career success.

What Is Mentoring?

According to writer Harsha Perara, mentoring is defined as a relationship between two individuals that share a common characteristic. Mentors can be short or long term, discuss personal or professional challenges, and connect at various times during one’s life. Mentoring is not a defined, contractual arrangement, but rather a mutual agreement among both parties.

In the corporate setting, peer mentoring is often suggested where mentors typically work with developing coworkers. Perara notes, “Companies often assign mentor relationships, but they can also develop spontaneously. The role can also often be labeled as adviser. In most cases, experienced professionals who have seniority are paired with developing professionals.”

Mentors commonly give advice based on their personal and professional expertise. In some cases, the meetings are structured with agendas and predefined questions.

What Is Coaching?

According to Kerry Miller of Positive Psychology, coaching is “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Coaching tends to be more future-focused and is based on achieving results, identifying blind spots, and enhancing performance.

The biggest misconception is that coaching is purely in the corporate environment. Coaching is traditionally in the corporate setting, where the coach has background or expertise in some aspect of the field. However, the act of coaching is observed both in and out of the work environment.

Perara also observes that “the purpose of coaching is generally around enabling behavioural insights that support the individual to perform better at work. The coaching is about enabling a deeper understanding of self within an organisational role. Deeper understanding that reveals blind spots, better navigates challenges and builds on strengths.”

Coaching, however, tends to be more structured. Usually, there is a formal written agreement developed between the coach and coachee, which includes reflective reading and pre-set structured meetings.

Key Differences between Mentoring and Coaching

Mentoring and coaching are not the same. Although they have more similarities than differences, they are two different acts. The main difference is in the interaction between the coach, the mentor and the mentee/coachee.

Perara says, “The difference between coaching and mentoring is not always clear cut. In fact, it can vary from being quite distinct to virtually the same depending on the focus. Coaching and mentoring may be quite different things in the realm of career, but they can converge when the focus is life.”

In addition, mentoring and coaching should not be mistaken for counseling or therapy, in which a licensed professional helps the individual retrospectively address past challenges and traumas to improve future experiences. While mentoring and coaching are traditionally free for the recipient, licensed professionals often charge for counseling or therapy sessions.

Interested in becoming a mentor or mentee? Learn more about ClearPath at American Public University.

How to Find a Mentor or Coach

While most mentoring relationships are organic, most coaching relationships are not. The key is to determine which is needed for you by first developing a list of your short- and long-term needs. Here are a few suggestions:

1. Do you need a mentor, coach or both? While you can benefit from having a mentor and coach simultaneously, ask yourself about the challenges you currently face, what goals you want to reach, and what help is needed to achieve your goals. Answering these questions can help you determine if you need a coach or a mentor.

2. Pre-interview potential mentors and coaches. Mentors and coaches are not created equal. You want to find a pairing that will be beneficial to both parties.

I’ve often set up pre-interviews that allow me to speak to potential mentors before formally requesting to establish a mentor relationship. You can use this pre-interview tool to learn more about the mentor, to determine if he/she is available to mentor on your timetable and to learn about his/her past experience with mentoring.

You can also use the pre-interview session to bounce an idea, question or concern to see if his/her response resonates with you. Likewise, this same technique can be used for a coach. In some cases, an assigned coach may not be the best fit for your career progression.

3. Discuss confidentiality in advance. Discuss confidentiality and what level of comfort the person has with disclosing and receiving personal information. In some cases, a written agreement may be used to outline expectations.

4. Develop a timetable. Mentoring and coaching take time, so ensure both parties are willing to make the investment.

The reality is that everyone needs career help from time to time. More than ever, Americans need help in the pursuit of a fruitful and rewarding career, especially with the changes that COVID-19 has brought to the business world.

Your career goal is to live life to the fullest and have a career that challenges and rewards you as it enables to express your passion. Mentoring and coaching can help you along your career journey, so that you have the career you deserve and wished for.

About the Author

Dr. Kandis Y. Boyd Wyatt, PMP, is a professor at American Public University and has 20 years of experience managing projects that specialize in supply chain management. She holds a B.S. in meteorology and an M.S. in meteorology and water resources from Iowa State University, as well as a D.P.A. in public administration from Nova Southeastern University.

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