How do mentoring and coaching differ and how can you use such opportunities to progress your career? Lydia Lamdin, ICAEW’s Director of Professional Development and Careers, covered this topic alongside an experienced mentor and executive coach at Virtually Live.
Mentoring and coaching provide an opportunity to talk confidentially to experienced, skilled professionals about a new role you are preparing for, or a position you already hold, and challenges you may face. They can give practical pointers and advice, assist with problem-solving and can help build greater self-awareness and confidence.
Mentoring and coaching offer benefits to both individuals and the organisations they work for and there are numerous reasons why employees may self-select or be nominated for these programmes.
Mentoring vs coaching
So, what is the difference between mentoring and coaching? Lydia Lamdin, ICAEW’s Director of Professional Development and Careers, explained in a Virtually Live 2021 panel discussion that although both mentoring and coaching entail one-to-one conversations, mentoring is a conversation with an expert who is typically in the field that the mentee is in.
Mentors probably know the career journey you are on, will be a trusted professional likely with significantly more experience than you and their goal is to help and support you, she said. They will likely have experienced similar challenges to their mentee and will be able to share their learnings, a different perspective or way of approaching certain challenges.
Coaching, on the other hand, is a structured process that is delivered by those who are qualified to coach, explained Lamdin. She added: “The role of the coach is to ask the questions that can really unlock somebody’s performance and help them to develop as an individual at work.”
In the context of ICAEW Academy’s mentoring and coaching programme, for example, mentoring involves an industry expert with board-level experience (CFO, CEO and/or NED) or coaching from a qualified professional who has experience of working in finance and/or coaching finance professionals.
The Virtually Live panel discussion pointed towards an overlap between the two approaches and that in reality most coaching or mentoring relationships combine coaching techniques and guidance or advice where appropriate. The goal is always to enable individuals to get the most out of the experience and achieve their objectives.
What makes a good match?
Finding a good match with a mentor or coach for the objectives the individual wants to achieve is key to getting the most out of the experience.
“Personal chemistry is very important”, confirmed Philip Gregory, an experienced ICAEW Financial Talent Executive Network (FTEN) mentor and former CFO, CEO and NED. He told Virtually Live 2021 attendees: “Although you might only have a 20 minute or 30 minute chat, we’re all very good at picking up very quickly ‘do I like this person, could I respect them, is it going to work’.”
“Practically, you’re going to be with them for 10 to 20 hours, so the personal chemistry has got to work enough that when you talk things through with them you take on board the things they’re saying,” he said.
Lamdin highlighted that pairings might not work for numerous reasons and that it’s far better to raise it than to try and press ahead. Gregory also pointed to the importance of relevant experience in mentoring. “Whether that’s industry knowledge, the position, or the career stage – this is absolutely what you should be testing out from a mentee’s point of view, because effectively, that’s what you’re buying,” he said.
Getting the most out of a session
Another key consideration is how you get the most out of each session, not only during the one-to-one discussion but in applying the take-aways and making sure that you use the experience wisely.
Paul Piccirillo, Portfolio CFO and Executive Coach, argued that there has to be enthusiasm to go to the session. He added that you have to respect and like the person you’re going to have the coaching session with and believe the conversation you will have with them is going to be impactful.
Piccirillo, who is a qualified coach and a former mentee on ICAEW’s NFL programme, has been on both sides of the coaching and mentoring experience. He explained that as a mentee he creates enough time around each session for preparation and reflection. He said: “I do prep for the sessions. I make sure that I answer a few questions so that we’re not spending the first part of the coaching session doing the work that I could do myself.”
“I’ll answer things like, what went well since the last time we met, what can I learn, what went wrong, what was challenging? What am I really struggling with right now and, if this session was the best session I ever had, what would be different at the end?”
He also highlighted following up after a session, taking the time to write down and diarise reflections on what you have learned and actions you can take away.
Those being mentored or coached should not be afraid to give feedback, because it can allow the relationship to become more productive, according to Piccirillo. “It’s a two-way relationship and if something is not working for you, you need to feedback and just be honest about that,” he explained.
The panel also pointed to the value of holding sessions in a different room or space from the work environment, although a mentor may want to see the workplace to get an appreciation of the mentee’s setting.
Speaking of his experiences of mentoring and coaching, Piccirillo confirmed: “For me, it’s really given me confidence, clarity and enhanced performance, as well as career progression.”
All ICAEW members, students and community members can watch the full panel discussion alongside all of the other Virtually Live content.
Find out more about ICAEW’s coaching and mentoring programme, which is available to all finance professionals from manager level and beyond.