From time to time we receive questions from our readers. A
while back we were asked the following question:
I'm a mid-range marketing executive in a large New Zealand
fast moving consumer goods company. I've been here for a few years
and have enjoyed myself. I'm quite ambitious and would like to keep
progressing to a more senior role. However, I feel like I need some
more development before I can achieve that.
There aren't many senior women in my company and most of
them are located in Australia. I'm struggling to find someone in my
close work environment that I can learn from.
I'm aware of the concept of Executive Coaching and
Mentoring. I think this is probably the way to go for me. However,
I'm not sure what they actually do and what the differences between
them are, nor which option would be best suited for my needs. Can
Thanks for your question. This is a very common one. We've often
been asked about the functions of, and the differences between,
coaching and mentoring in professional settings.
We find that women in particular are very keen to explore these
possibilities. This might have something to do with the observation
that women often feel quite isolated and lonely in organisations
where there are few women role models. Having a more independent
relationship seems like an excellent solution.
In order to identify the most suitable solution, you need to
figure out what your needs are. Do you need:
- Development of specific skills and competencies such as
communication or leadership?
- Someone who can help you navigate through the politics and
'ins' and 'outs' of your company?
If you said "yes" to "a" you might want to look into Executive
Coaching. If you think "b"" is what you need, you'll probably
benefit more from a Mentor.
Mentoring has been defined as: "the supportive development of an
individual employee through the use of an experienced person".
According to the Book 'A Practical Guide to Mentoring': Mentoring is
about creating an informal environment in which one person can feel
encouraged to discuss their needs and circumstances openly and in
confidence with another person who is in a position to be of
positive help to them.
To us, mentoring is having an informal relationship with someone
who is not your direct boss and who is knowledgeable about the 'ins
and outs' of your organisation. This person does not necessarily
have to be more senior or even older, and does not have to be a
woman. A good mentor can help guide you through the 'unspoken
rules' of your company and help you work out things for yourself,
which you might not otherwise be able to do.
We believe that the best mentors are those who don't tell you
what you should do. Through talking with them and discussing
situations, great mentors help you see the answer for yourself. The
best mentors we know are excellent listeners.
Types of mentoring in companies:
Mentoring can take many forms and varies from an
employee-initiated relationship with a senior and well-respected
executive to a structured, company-initiated mentoring programme.
Most commonly, mentoring takes place within the organisation
between two employees of the same company. For a lucky few, the
mentoring relationship lasts throughout their working career.
Some companies establish mentoring schemes where they match up
juniors or new starters with more senior people. This arrangement
can be found in some of New Zealand's larger law firms and
professional services firms.
In this case, the mentoring programme is structured and has
defined outcomes and objectives. Typically, mentoring as an
intervention is considered when either skills/knowledge or a
motivation issue is the driving force in the performance problem or
opportunity. It may well be the case that your company does have
some sort of a mentoring programme that you are unaware of, and
this might be an option to explore.
Finding your mentor:
If your company does not have a formal programme, you can still
initiate a mentoring relationship if that is what you seek.
Remember that a good mentor does not have to be someone in your
field of work, or more senior to you. A good mentor is someone who
can help you with the specific realities of your company.
Things to think about when choosing a mentor:
- Does this person have a good understanding of my company?
- Is s/he someone who I respect and value?
- Is s/he a good listener?
- Can I trust her/him?
- Will s/he be interested in a mentoring relationship?
Once you've identified someone who fits the bill, you could
approach them. If you know the person reasonably well, you can take
a more informal approach. Ask them for coffee. Think in advance
about how you can best communicate to them what it is you're
asking. Make sure you tell them why you think they will make a good
mentor and see how they feel about it. In my experience, most
people are quite thrilled when asked to be mentors.
When you don't know the person all that well, a more formal
approach will be appropriate. I'd suggest that you write to them,
briefly outlining what you're seeking, and why you think they will
be a good mentor. If you don't hear from them, then try one
follow-up in person about three weeks after you sent the
Remember, a mentoring relationship tends to be long term and
relatively unstructured. If you feel you need to work on specific
skill sets or competencies, like listening, communicating or
leading, then you should explore the possibility of getting your
company to pay for an executive coach.
In our view, Wikipedia offers the best, most concise,
definition of executive coaching:
Executive Coaching is a one-on-one training and
collaborative relationship between a certified or self-proclaimed
coach and an executive interested in improving him/herself
primarily in career or business-related skills. The process
typically lasts between three months and one year, depending on the
type of intervention, and consists of face-to-face developmental
discussions aimed at performance improvement or developing a
particular competence. The coaching is meant to be practical and
goal-focused and may concentrate on avoiding professional
de-railers or working through organisational issues or change
Good executive coaches begin the intervention by collecting
thorough feedback from the people you interact with on a daily
basis, including your staff, boss, clients and in some cases your
family as well. They should provide you with honest feedback that
you might have never received otherwise. Good coaches ensure that
the feedback you receive is specific with actual examples to
illustrate the point made.
This feedback is key to the success of the intervention. With a
realistic picture of your strengths and weaknesses, you can work
with your coach to ensure you are well placed to face the
challenges ahead. A good coach will work with you to set a limited
number of well-defined, performance-related goals and then help you
achieve them. Coaching should have a limited time horizon and
should be targeted and practical.
If you want to find out more about companies who are dedicated
to providing executive coaching check out:
In New Zealand: One of our Chapter facilitators in Christchurch,
Kathryn Jackson is an Executive Coach and he website offers a
wealth of resources on the topic:
And in Australia, a company which is dedicated to the
development of professional women: http://www.xplore.net.au/index.html
Through my working life, I've been lucky enough to have had
wonderful mentors. I'm still in touch with them and they have been
a wonderful source of support and advice throughout my career.
We would really like to know if you had similar experiences or
if you had completely different ones. We would also love to know if
you have ever had an Executive Coach or Mentor and how you found
© Professionelle Ltd 2007