Do You Need a Coach or Mentor?

These two terms are more than just modern buzzwords; they each mean something very specific. ALA Pillar of Industry Eric Borden, LS, CPC, will discuss these options with the Young Executives group during Conference. By Eric Borden

[dropcap style=”letter” size=”52″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#5631d8″]W[/dropcap]hether in our personal or professional lives, each of us has experienced a mentor. It may have been in the form of a teacher or supervisor, or it could have been a close family member or friend. We all have benefited from an outside influence or the guidance from someone other than ourselves as we sought help in solving simple to complex problems.  

Personally, it happened to me in my early years in the lighting industry. Let’s say you’re hired as a rep for an agency or manufacturer, or as a showroom salesperson with no prior experience in lighting whatsoever. What do you do? I thought there would be training provided or, at least, an introductory period where I could transition from my previous job to this one. I wondered who I could I turn to for guidance.  I knew my new colleagues would help me situationally, but what about long term? If you are facing or have faced this dilemma you can relate.

The description above happens more often than you would think, and the solution depends upon how you perceive the benefit of having a mentor or coach as either a short-term or long-term relationship. What’s the difference with each? The answers below will assist you in choosing the right one for you. Typically you might need a mentor when:

You feel confused and alone.

You find it difficult to set goals and achieve them.

You feel stuck and need some help opening doors.

Your network isn’t benefiting you.

Mentors know what it takes to succeed on many levels. They can help you set goals and guide you through your career or life events. They become your “go to” person and confidante for anything and everything related to questions or concerns about life or work.

On the other hand, a Coach will guide you – not tell you – how to achieve your life and professional path and goals or help you steer through whatever situation you are currently experiencing. You typically may want to seek a coach when:

You feel overwhelmed.

You feel discouraged.

Your life feels like it’s out of control.

You sacrifice “you” over other people or things.

You have a feeling of personal mediocrity.

You have an overall feeling of dissatisfaction.

So how are coaches and mentors similar, and how are they different? Well, there are distinct similarities:

Both require understanding of the problems, where you are in work/life, and assess your effort in the relationship.

The mentee/client receives more out of the relationship than the mentor or coach.

The mentor and coach are devoted to the mentee/client success.

The mentee/client owns the agenda and is responsible for his/her actions.

There are also distinct differences:

Coaching helps to develop unique, personalized, lasting solutions to professional and personal development issues by improving a client’s self-awareness, emotional intelligence, and overall “thinking process.”

Mentoring offers specific advice, whether from a more experienced person or from a younger to older co-worker.

Coaches are trained to push their clients to their fullest potential while not becoming patronizing, which could limit the learning process.

Mentors are expected to give solid advice and are happy to do so.

Coaching utilizes professional assessment tools to help discover development opportunities before formulating a development plan that drives the coaching sessions.

Mentoring engagements can be broader in scope and are either short or long-term relationships.

Mentoring meetings are often more brainstorming-oriented with a collaborative effort to find the best solution; coaching sessions are usually more formal.

Mentoring can be informal; while coaching is a formal relationship.

During your career in the lighting industry, you will meet people who become your mentors or coaches throughout your career. I personally had three who have influenced me to grow both personally and professionally. They do not need to be the owners of showrooms or manufacturers. They can be your peers, your colleagues, someone in another discipline, or an independent person totally unaffiliated with lighting.

Depending upon what you feel would be of most benefit to you, you will want to seek out the assistance of either of these two helpers. I have found that coaches usually are for short-term situations. Mentors can be for that too, but they can also stick around for life! In either case it’s perfectly acceptable not to go it alone and you should feel comfortable seeking assistance. For personal or career growth and development, your choices depend on your own personal needs. Whether you choose a coach or a mentor is entirely up to you, but either one will help you grow in all aspects of your life.

Where to Find Mentors/Coaches

OK, let’s say you’ve decided to seek a mentor but are “stuck” as to how to go about it.

Consider this: Sometimes it just happens naturally. Perhaps you are targeting someone you respect at work and you then casually ask them for help. Or you may be sitting with a peer who has been in lighting for a few years and you recognize that they may be the perfect role model for you.

There are many ways to approach someone to become your mentor as there are many ways you may recognize that someone within your showroom or at your office would benefit from having you as one!

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