CIO Development

Blog Coaching and mentoring – is there a difference?

Recently we were asked by Global Knowledge to contribute to a discussion and set of blogs for their website. Global Knowledge is an organisation focused on IT Professional Management Learning working with Cisco, VMware, IBM and Microsoft and more.

The first piece was about CIO coaching and mentoring:

A look at some of the key differences between coaching and mentoring and how to benefit from the best of both worlds.

Some people believe coaching and mentoring are synonymous. Others say them in one breath as in ‘coaching-and-mentoring’. And yet others think them different, pairing them together as in ‘fish and chips’. So what’s the truth: are they the same, similar, or different? This isn’t merely an academic debate. If, for instance, they are different, when is one more productive than the other? If they are similar, can someone called ‘a mentor’ say they are ‘coaching’?

We have strongly held beliefs about these questions. We believe coaching is a professional and systematic approach to accelerating an individual’s personal development. It is delivered by a trained professional and it is often the fastest, surest route to breakthroughs and creating openings at a higher level. By contrast, mentoring is most often delivered by an experienced practitioner in the particular field the mentee wants to learn about. It involves a more junior individual engaging in conversations with a more senior, seasoned professional who has been ‘down that road’ already. It is much less systematised and more organic. A mentor can share insights and experience that a coach could never offer.

We feel neither is inferior to the other, they’re just very different.

When done well, both approaches deliver strong benefits. Whilst a mentor may not be working to a strict process, the engagement can still be monitored and managed to great effect. Both coaching and mentoring solutions tend to be one-to-one engagements that are designed and hopefully delivered in a method and a style that works best for the participants.

Executive coaching can be specially adapted for CIOs and other IT executives wanting to break through their career barriers, and has been proven to be highly effective in doing so. The key is often to match a corporate IT executive, director or senior manager with the most suitable coaching for them, based upon the outcomes that they wish to achieve through the engagement. The most popular reasons why our coaches are engaged by companies both large and small are to help their IT leaders to:

• Improve their political savvy and networking
• Communicate with authority and confidence with people at all levels
• Become more outstanding and inspirational leaders
• Motivate their teams and improve performance
• Take their careers to the next level
• Create a more consultative culture
• Become more pro-active and drive their own development

So where can mentoring add further value?

In April 2013, Michael Hickins in CIO Magazine suggested ‘Future IT leaders lack mentors’. Mentoring can add a different dimension to the developmental journey of the more junior but talented IT executive. He argues that mentors can help develop the people and communication skills that some of our IT talent lack. Earlier this year in January 2013, Rich Hein, a senior writer for CIO​.com wrote “A strong work ethic, degrees, certifications and experience aren’t always enough to get you where you want to be. While those items are the foundation of a solid IT career, sometimes you need insight from someone who’s climbed that mountain already.”

We believe that suitable CIO mentors can offer great help in preparing the next generation of IT executives to take a lead in shaping how IT can play a bigger part in the strategic future of organisations. This is an area where a coach can help, but there’s no substitute for getting the insight that an experienced and knowledgeable CIO can impart. The mentors can get a lot out of the conversations too. It helps refresh their understanding of changes in IT and connects them with next generation thinking. Engaging in conversations with the next generation of IT executives about their leadership, can help them to become better leaders themselves.

Both coaching and mentoring are beneficial for everyone in times of challenge. Whether you are facing an outstanding new opportunity or you want to take command in new and powerful ways, coaching and mentoring can help. In our experience, having a strong coach and a suitable mentor is a wonderful combination if you wish to progress quickly.

Note that we are using ‘and’ here as in the phrase ‘fish and chips’.

We’ll look to share more of ‘how’ in our next blog update…

The authors

Peter Thornton (Director of Academy Programmes), Brinley Platts (Chairman) and James Caplin (Head of Coaching).

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