• Barb Mayfield

Do I need a mentor or a coach?

Updated: Sep 20, 2020

Mentor helping protege

What is a mentor? Is it the same as a coach? Or, is it something different?

The words mentor and coach are often used interchangeably. Most people would agree that the roles have much in common. Mentors and coaches help us grow and achieve our goals.

When should someone seek the services of a coach and when should someone seek a mentor?

A dictionary definition for coach is “one who instructs or trains.” Therefore, seek a coach when you need instruction to achieve a targeted skill set such as learning how to be a more effective presenter, learning business skills, or learning how to use social media.

A dictionary definition for mentor is “an experienced and trusted adviser.” Therefore, seek a mentor when you need direction and guidance in how to utilize your knowledge and skills; when you need feedback, advice, or encouragement from someone with more experience.

Although very similar, the differences between a coach and a mentor are subtle yet important.

  • A coach may be a volunteer position, but is often a person hired and paid to teach the skills needed to achieve a standard of excellence in sports, the arts, or academics. A mentor is generally a voluntary role. It may involve skill-building, but in a supporting role rather than as the primary instructor.

  • A coach may work one-on-one, with a group, or with a larger team. Mentors and mentees generally work one-on-one.

  • In coaching, goals are generally derived by the coach or an outside organization. In mentoring, goals are generally determined by the mentee with the guidance of the mentor.

For more on coaching, check out this post: https://www.nutritioncommunicator.com/single-post/2018/09/14/Want-to-go-further-faster.

The lists below describe the roles of a mentor and mentee. Notice how they complement each other.

A mentor’s role involves:

  • Being an encourager and supporter

  • Asking good questions and being an active listener, demonstrating empathy

  • Being generous with sharing expertise, experience, and wisdom

  • Being a role model, demonstrating ethical behavior

  • Being respectful and trustworthy

A mentee’s role involves:

  • Taking responsibility for learning

  • Asking good questions and being an active listener

  • Respecting and appreciating the mentor’s time and generosity

  • Setting goals to work on with the mentor

  • Being open to receiving advice and feedback

In a mentor-mentee relationship, the mentor is the more experienced, supportive counselor and advisor who helps the mentee learn, grow, and develop, in order to reach the mentee’s personal and professional goals.

Has anyone ever mentored you? I believe we all achieve more when we seek the guidance of a mentor. A mentor has traveled the journey ahead of us and can lend us an ear and provide wisdom and encouragement.

Have you ever served as a mentor? If you have acquired valuable experience, look for opportunities to become a mentor. When you fulfill the mentor role, you also learn and grow.

I recently organized a program for alumni from Purdue’s Department of Nutrition Science to mentor current students. I am preparing to send out letters to the 27 pairs of mentors and mentees who signed up to participate. I look forward to getting to know my mentee as well as observing how well the program serves all of the students and alumni involved. Stay tuned for a future blog to find out how the program turns out. If you are interested in learning more about our program, be in touch. I would be happy to share.

What do you need to grow as a professional? Do you need a mentor? Or, do you need a coach?

If you are seeking a coach to develop skills in nutrition communication, check out my coaching page: https://www.nutritioncommunicator.com/one-on-one-coaching. If you are seeking a professional mentor, a good place to start is your local or state affiliate of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.”

~ John Crosby

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