Think you might need some help? Be careful what you wish for!

by Anne Chappaz

As you face the challenges of entrepreneurship, there are times when you need a bit of help. Coaches and mentors can be an amazing source of support when the going gets tough, but before you jump into such a relationship, you need to reflect on exactly what help you need.

Coaching and mentoring are designed to solve different sorts of problems, they need different skill sets, operate over a different timeframe, and are based on a different type of relationship. It is unlikely that a good mentor would also be a good coach for you, and vice versa.

I benefited from a business coach when I was going through a major career shift. Like many of you setting up your business, I needed to understand my purpose and strengths and set myself objectives and tasks in order to succeed. Sometimes I also needed a shoulder to cry on! Conversely, I valued the insights from a mentor when I needed the inspiration of a role model, who could help me navigate my way because of her knowledge and connections.

Check out the table below to decide whether you need a coach or a mentor right now, and how you might recognise the right one for you.




Your problem

Managing a major disruption, solving daily challenges, being the best version of yourself

Needing expert advice, building networks, gaining profile, building client pipelines.

Their solution

Asking good questions, using good listening skills to support you to define and solve the problem yourself. Helping identify specific actions to be taking and holding you to account.

Bringing technical expertise, seniority, networks, public recognition to help you solve problems, gain personal and business benefit.

Timeframe of relationship

Can be reasonably short term, based on a specific problem.

May offer quick wins of knowledge, but most value comes from a long-term sponsorship of you and your business.

Type of relationship

Carefully selected, structured, visible. Should be based on clearly identified objectives, a set time frame, and clear roles and responsibilities. You should like them and find them challenging but positive.

A lucky meeting, family, club or work connection who is happy to invest their knowledge and relationship capital in your growth. They may be helping you invisibly. You might only recognise they have been your mentor years later. You should admire and respect them (even if you don’t like them).

Nature of trust

You must be able to share confidential business information and be honest about your fears and weaknesses

They must be able to share knowledge and networks with you without damage to their own business or reputation.

Skills they need

Formally trained and able to be neutral, self-effacing, curious, mindful, empathetic. They don’t need knowledge of your job or your sector.

Expertise in the work you do, or your sector, life experience, maturity, professional profile, connections.

Who you need to be

Self aware, open to feedback, humble, prepared to cry.

Confident, admiring, high-potential, trustworthy, prepared to step up.

What they need from you

Good coaches are professionals and properly trained and experienced. This implies that they are justified in asking for payment of some kind. They need you to be prepared for each meeting and to act on your commitments.

Unpaid, they are usually successful in your field. They value the chance to help, to be seen to be helping, and to associate themselves with an upcoming success.

With these differences in mind, take stock of what you need now and in the future. Be open to two very different types of relationships with two different people. One, in a structured task-focused relationship who can act as your coach, to challenge you to be the best you can, and to resolve a specific problem by drawing out the knowledge you already have. With a coach you can be vulnerable and anxious, and together you can tease out the answers. The other is a navigator, dropping into your life at intervals as a quick direction finder and connector, but always maintaining a proud and benevolent eye on your progress over a long time, and dropping your name into conversations when it matters.

My mentor told me that a mentorship relationship can never really work as an assigned formal relationship. It is not always a deliberate choice by either party, it occurs almost organically when the mentor wants to help someone because of a connection, an interest, or a recognition of their younger self. Often you only realise that they have become your mentor when you look back at their influence and guidance over time. She said that anyone approaching her to ask to be mentored was automatically disqualified! With a mentor, neediness and vulnerability won’t work. A mentor with the successful profile you need doesn’t have the time or the skills to help you grow emotionally.

In general terms, a coach should question, challenge and support. They should listen more than they talk. A mentor should inform, inspire and connect. They talk more than they listen. As you travel your entrepreneurial path, you will need both, at different times and for different reasons. Just make sure that you understand exactly what to expect from each. If you think someone is your coach, and they think they are your mentor, then neither of you will be satisfied!

Need a coach yourself? Look not further! We have more than 300 experts in business around the globe, who are there to help you learn and grow. For members, go search for a coach here. Not a member yet? Click here to register now!

Also, check out the Five Tips For Making Any Coaching Relationship A Success to improve the quality of your coaching experience!


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