Make Investors Sit up and Notice #8 – Get Mentored or Coached

Business Mentor

Make Investors Sit up and Notice #8 - Get A Business Mentor

Have you ever had a coach?

How about a mentor?

Perhaps you've never really thought about the difference between coaching and mentoring and have used the terms interchangeably. Today, we're going to distinguish them. Coaching and mentoring, whether in sports, relationships, health or business, are both vital to success. But a coach and a mentor play very different roles and are best used in very different ways.

Before getting into the core distinctions between business mentors or coaches I want you to consider that the life-cycle of your business and your role as Vision Master have both long-term goals and short-term issues that crop up on the way to the long-term accomplishments. Think of driving across country. You're in San Diego and the long-term goal is to get to New York City. To accomplish this you need to generally continue to travel east. Traveling any other direction won't accomplish the goal. But along the way, there will be many decisions and potential challenges. Things like bad weather, road construction, the cost of gas, food, and lodging and how your car is running are all issues that have to be dealt with day-to-day in order to eventually get to New York. And, while you're dealing with the day-to-day issues, you've got to keep heading east.

If you get this two-faceted challenge from the trip example, you already understand the essence of coaching versus mentoring in a general sense. A mentor will keep you heading east. A coach will help you deal with specific day-to-day challenges. That's not to say that a mentor can't ever offer guidance on the day-to-day things or that a coach can't help you stay aligned to your long-term goals. The point is that the primary roles of coaches and mentors are different.

And in my experience having both is a great idea. The key is how to use each of them effectively to help you navigate the day-to-day challenges and stay on course to reach your long-term goals.

So, let's look at the core distinctions between coaches and mentors.

The most obvious distinction is one you may already know:  A mentor is a winner you can model, someone with success in your field or at least in business leadership.  A coach is not necessarily a success in his/her own right in your field.  They just know how to ask the right questions, keep you motivated, hold you to your own stated goals, and help you find the answers you need.

Brefi Group is an international business consultancy operating in Europe, the United States and a dozen or so other countries and regions. Brefi specializes in organizational change management. In other words, they help leaders navigate short-term challenges in alignment with their long-term goals. Hence, they provide coaching and mentoring among other services and have a clear understanding of the essential differences between the two. Here is how Brefi Group distinguishes coaching from mentoring:

  • Mentoring involves a long-term relationship with no defined conclusion, while coaching generally has a set duration.
  • Mentoring involves a less formal relationship and meetings may take place whenever the mentor's guidance and wisdom are sought, while coaching relationships are more structured, with specific dates and times for meetings.
  • Mentors are in it for the long-term and are generally interested in the person as a whole, while coaches tend to focus on specific developmental issues.
  • Mentors focus on both career and personal development -- a holistic approach to the mentee, while coaches are generally focused on specific challenges or issues.
  • The agenda for meetings with a mentor is generally set by the mentee, while a coach typically sets the agenda to focus on specific problem-solution matters at hand.
  • Mentoring is intended to provide ongoing support and development of the person as a whole, leading to broad-based professional and personal transformations, while coaching is generally focused on a specific developmental issue.

A mentor is someone that guides you all along the way in life or through a particular journey in life. A coach is someone who helps you strengthen your weak spots in an important area. Both can be essential to a Vision Master. Think of Luke Skywalker from Star Wars. Luke had a mentor and a coach. The mentor was Obi-Wan Kenobi. The coach was Yoda. Obi-Wan was with Luke all along his journey. He helped Luke understand who he was and helped him clarify his life's purpose. When it was time for Luke to be actually trained as a Jedi, he was sent to Yoda. Yoda coached Luke specifically with respect to understanding "the Force" and developing his skills as a warrior. He needed both, at different times and for different things. The fact is heroes rarely if ever, go it alone and if they (or you) try to go it alone you represent a big risk for failure.

Kelli Richards, CEO of The All Access Group, LLC, writing in Forbes, provides a very helpful distinction between coaches and mentors:

Mentors, she says, "typically function in a reactive capacity, responding to issues as they arise," while coaches are "prescriptive and proactive by nature, actively participating in strategizing and co-creating successful outcomes with their clients."

In other words, you go to your mentor whenever you need guidance and they respond with the wisdom and experience they have. You hire a coach to define or solve a problem or weakness and tell you what to do to fix it. In sports, coaches draw up plays and work daily with their teams to execute the plays to perfection. Mentors guide athletes through the rigors and tough decisions involved in being famous, having a lot of money at a young age, deciding whether to sign or hold out, etc.

One of the great benefits of a business mentor is that they represent a wealth of life and business experience that can be incredibly valuable during times of stress and uncertainty. When Luke Skywalker was deeply embroiled in a saber battle with Darth Vader, his mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi appeared to remind Luke to use the Force to his advantage and not to get lost in his emotional responses to or fears about the situation at hand.

Mentors can take the long view and look at the mentee as a whole, finding and supporting their natural talents and strengths and offering advice on how to use them. In her article mentioned above, which you can read here, Ms. Richards used the example of Sir Richard Laker, mentor to Richard Branson, for the type of assistance a mentor can provide, when he advised Branson to make himself the face of the Virgin brand. Coaches don't typically provide that type of counsel because they're focused on developmental needs.

Both coaches and mentors provide you with survival value but in different ways. Coaches train you. Mentors advise you. Each does this based on superior wisdom, experience (mentors) and/or problem-solving and developmental approaches (coaches). This combination can help you avoid or mitigate mistakes by seeing the ground ahead more clearly and by being more prepared and developed to meet what comes. This is real risk-reduction that investors will appreciate you having taken steps to incorporate into your business and your life. They want you and your company to be stable, supported, resilient and within a culture of continuous training and development. That reduces risk and strengthens trust and by now you are well aware of how important trust is with investors! Remember, risk reduction is one key to developing trust, but another is being coachable and nothing demonstrates that better than that you are actually being coached and mentored and applying the wisdom and advice.

Now, you might think that if you have a great Execution Master on the team a mentor might not be necessary. But don't make that mistake! The research of my colleague George Kenney demonstrates a key advantage to companies that employ the "Sandwich Strategy." You, the Vision Master, are the meat, the driving force behind the vision and growth of the company. Your Execution Master one piece of bread whose constant watch over the business adds strength and cohesion. But without a second piece of bread, the sandwich lacks stability. That second piece of bread is your mentor. And remember that often your mentor can actually be your lead investor and that such people often view the investment and the mentoring as two parts of the same "deal" they're doing with you. In many cases, they want to mentor you and in all cases they expect you to be coachable.

Key Takeaway: Explore these distinctions between mentors and coaches. Do you have both? Do you have neither? I advise you to have a long-term, trusted mentor and to bring in a coach or coaches to support you and your team's growth in specific developmental areas. Being coachable forges investor trust. Demonstrating that you have a mentor and/or a coach and that you're heeding their advice shows investors your coachability. That makes you stand out from the crowd and increase your chances for funding.

To learn more about the Vision and Execution Masters, download my free e-book Born to Star - Secrets for Business Funding Success from your library.