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Mentoring vs coaching, what’s the difference?

Ewelina Kruk, Chartered Project Professional, mentor and member - Association for Project Management (APM)

Learning may be challenging no matter what stage of our careers we are in, especially when we have to do it on our own. It is more important than ever that individuals have access to the assistance and guidance they require as professionals. As a mentor myself, I know the value and benefit mentoring programmes offer to organisations and individuals. There are several important considerations for people considering mentoring as a way to advance their careers or as a way to give back to their field.

Mentoring VS coaching
Coaching and mentoring have a similar goal in mind: to assist others in growing, developing, and reaching their full potential. Individuals are encouraged to take control of their professional and personal growth using both strategies. When it comes to people development, the two are often lumped together, making it appear as if it’s a binary decision for organisations. However, Coaching and mentoring, while they differ in a number of ways, are in reality complementary.

Mentoring relationships, due to their informal nature, frequently result in friendship and have the ability to last a lifetime. Coaching, on the other hand, is more akin to a short-term relationship since it is often goal-oriented and geared toward the development of specific skills. One of the most common misconceptions regarding mentors is that they will tell you what to do and mould you into a more successful person. Unlike coaching, however, mentees are solely accountable for their own growth and for driving sessions with their mentor.

Mentors are encouraged to share personal stories regarding challenges they have experienced in their careers and the critical lessons they have learnt along the way. These topics aren’t always discussed with coaches. In fact, they may not even have any relevant expertise in the sector in question. Ultimately, mentoring is a bidirectional connection with the goal of increasing confidence.

Mentoring for success
As a Chartered Project Professional, I’ve been a mentor for the past five years and I’ve discovered that mentoring has several benefits for all parties involved. Of course, there are more apparent perks, such as the chance to expand one’s network by making professional contacts and forming long-term friendships. Because today’s employment market is still quite active, networking has never been more important in advancing careers. Mentoring, moreover, provides a secure, non-judgmental environment in which to learn. It helps us translate technical information into real-life, contextual problems when we enter a new industry or advance to a more senior role.

It’s a prevalent myth that mentees are the only ones who profit from mentoring relationships. Mentors, on the other hand, can derive great satisfaction from seeing someone else achieve as a result of their help, and it can be a priceless opportunity to hone their leadership and communication skills, acquire confidence, and realise their own leadership potential. It has been demonstrated in several studies that mentoring increases job satisfaction and makes a job feel more meaningful to people engaged. It’s a method for many senior workers to pay it forward and give back to the professional community that helped them succeed.

It’s no secret that women confront a variety of challenges in the workplace, notably in terms of work-life balance and proximity bias. These issues are much more prevalent in male-dominated sectors, where many female project managers work in. Mentoring enables women to recognise their own abilities and advocate for themselves, allowing them to advance into positions of leadership. Gender diversity in the leadership team is often linked to employee retention and engagement, thus the entire organisation benefits.

Eliane Pony, a community development facilitator, and mentored by Ewelina Kruk says: “My experience as a mentee has been rewarding as I needed to get some insight into project management being a student. I wanted to change career and with no prior experience, it was the best option to talk to a seasoned professional. Ewelina was resourceful and motivating, and we really bonded during our first meeting. It was also a reverse mentoring relationship as I was brought to share my experience of working full-time and doing my master’s part-time as she was also doing the same. Mentoring helped me to come out of my comfort zone and, as a result, I secured my current role.

I will wholeheartedly recommend mentoring to anyone. It has also motivated me to mentor someone and to help them achieve their career goals using my personal experience.”

Reverse mentoring
Many organisations are struggling to retain young talent with the Great Resignation still in full force. Reverse-mentoring programmes are being used by leadership teams all across the world to address this issue. Reverse mentoring matches younger employees with senior executives for mentoring and advice on a number of strategy and culture-related topics.

These programmes are highly valuable in that they help to bridge generational divides by allowing both parties to discuss their different perspectives on work and other leadership and strategy concerns. Younger professionals, contrary to popular belief, have much more to offer senior colleagues than digital skills (though they are also essential in this day and age!). Reverse mentorship also tends to open up dialogue inside a company, giving junior employees the acknowledgement and transparency they desire from upper management. As a result, senior workers who have been mentored will be more likely to seek input and debate key topics before making decisions, while younger employees will be more engaged at work.

Embracing diversity
Mentoring is not automatically tied to age or seniority, as previously stated. It’s all about sharing diverse life experiences and looking at things from a new perspective. One of the most effective strategies to encourage diversity and inclusion is to include team members who are neurodiverse, LGBTQ+, or from ethnic minorities in your company’s mentorship programme. As mentors, these employees can share their unique experiences and shed light on the obstacles they overcame in their personal and professional lives. Providing staff with these opportunities to share and connect will increase empathy, self-awareness and cultural competency.

Mentoring can help individuals achieve a wide range of career objectives. Whether it’s to break into project management, advance to a senior position, or even manoeuvre laterally. In a dynamic and fast-paced atmosphere like the project profession, a sympathetic, supporting mentor may make all the difference. Everyone has objectives and dreams, and no matter how well the mentee has progressed, they may occasionally want some outside guidance to assist them to navigate their way through.

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