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The Easy Answer

Updated: Nov 17, 2019

I recently said no to a client who wanted to hire me. Our initial meeting showed me she wanted a mentor. While I am experienced, educated, and possess business expertise, my service offering is not mentorship. I provide executive coaching services.

Working together would have been frustrating for both of us. She had her mind set on a mentor. Her envisioned approach to outcomes (knowledge transfer) was not aligned with how I’d approach our work (learning and development). She didn’t see that difference and was disappointed I wouldn’t let her hire me. She saw mentoring as the easiest and fastest way to get what she wanted.

What’s the easy answer?

We want life to be easier. The easiest solution often feels like it should be the right answer. Realizing your life goals can be hard and making changes to your life can be even harder. Magazine headlines and online publications are full of articles touting tips on how to make life easier. Ideally, we want to find the easiest option. The easy answer to the question of personal and professional development is to have someone tell you the course of action to take.

The gap arises when what you are told to do doesn’t get you to where you want to be. As professional development involves your inner self, what works for one person can be hard to replicate for yourself. Your professional development plan must be tailored to you and who you are as an individual. Realizing big change for yourself means a plan that is aligned with who you are.

Who has the best advice?

Why can’t I just get someone to do this?

Why can’t I find someone who will find all of the answers for me?

The answer to these questions lies in the difference between mentors and coaches.

• A mentor is a professional who offers experience, subject matter expertise, networking, and industry insights.

• A coach is a human behaviour practitioner who helps people see, enable, and realize change.

A conversation with a mentor may feel easier than a conversation with a coach. The coach conversation can feel uncomfortable. The coach will navigate you to find the answer for yourself and hold you accountable to realize what you want. What you commit to doing can feel uncomfortable.

The ideal option to give you the best potential for realizing your desired outcomes is a balance of what feels comfortable and what pushes you outside of your comfort zone.

What’s the difference between a mentor and coach?

Here’s how I see the key functions to these two development support roles:

MentorTeach, share, give feedback, coach, advise, and inspire.


Trained in coaching methodology, set goals, be a thought partner, provide accountability, encourage change, offer a new perspective or reality-check, navigate, inspire.

Isn’t a coach also a mentor?

In it’s truest application as a profession, a coach is not a mentor. Often a coach can become a mentor.

A relationship with a mentor is typically not a paid engagement and is often a reactive- or current state-discussion. Most mentors generously give their time for free. Mentor meetings can span from coffee-connects to regular meetings that could extend for years.

Coaches are part of a professional organization,use leading methodology and tools, continually invest in training and development, possess experience and expertise, and charge for their services. Working with a coach means a commitment of a contract and is goals-centric. The engagement is structured as a professional services engagement over 3 to 12 months.

My clients accuse me of holding out on them. We both know I possess good advice and experience that can be helpful, yet it’s from my perspective, and it may not fit their objectives. I believe that getting my clients to see and learn for themselves means they learn change faster and create more sustainable impact for realizing what they want. When the situation warrants, I tell my clients I am shifting to a mentor role and share my insights that way.

Mentor, manager, or coach?

What if you work in a large organization that offers each of these roles? How do you differentiate between mentor, manager, and coach? Role clarity. The advisor in the discussion needs to be clear to themselves and their team member on the role they play in that discussion. Know the expectations and what the desired outcomes of the conversation are. If you are wondering how you decide which role to play, ask your team member what they think would be most helpful. Should you be the mentor, manager, or coach?

When do you use which resource?

Engage the coach when the solution means you need to work on your inner self, technical skills, development plan, and execution. When you need to get to future skills, best practices, or career advancement, leverage the mentor. The ideal mentor relationship should be outside your current team. Many organizations are incorporating formalized mentoring into leadership development programs and enabling the creation of new relationships to support longer term career opportunities.

The best answer

In your quest to find the right partner to help you with your goal, how do you know what course to take? I provided some ideas in a previous blog,

An Investment Strategy of You. Scan for possible options, assess services solutions, and seek advice.My advice to you is not to worry about the perfect solution, but to focus on the actions, commitment, and investment you are making to realize your goals. Too often I see people spending extended time in the assessment phase.


Get to the action phase. If it's not perfect, there’s no downside to gaining learning and development from any forum. Your success is dependent on moving yourself from thinking to doing.


Your best return on value will come from a disciplined strategy, planning, investment, effort, and management of your professional development. A great development plan includes training, coaching, mentoring, and a great leader/manager. Both mentoring and coaching are focused on getting you to a desired point in the future, and help you work on your goals and on you. You and your professional brand are your most valuable asset.

There’s no wrong answer when a solution addresses your personal and professional development. Consider investing in you.

Take action.


About Lisa W. HaydonLisa W. Haydon is the President and Founder of Pivotal Coaching Inc. She left her comfortable corporate career several years ago to follow her passion of helping people realize their potential and companies to realize high performance. Lisa is a growth focused entrepreneur, leadership development consultant and certified executive coach. To her clients, she brings business experience with prestigious corporations and continuous education. Lisa’s work in business operations and B to B sales expertise allowed her to create a differentiated coaching model and client experience. Lisa and Pivotal Coaching are known for 1:1 and cohort Programs in leadership development and sales effectiveness.

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