Getting the Most out of Coaching and Mentoring

by Rik Nemanick, Ph.D. and Bob Grace, Ph.D.

As you know, we are believers in the power of coaching and mentoring in developing leaders (see the June 2005 issue for the difference between mentoring and coaching). We have developed the suggestions below during the years we have spent coaching executives and managers, and working with organizations to improve their mentoring programs. While coaching and mentoring each present a great learning opportunities, there are things you can do to get the most out of the experience:

Decide if this is the right time. Coaching requires both actual time on the calendar to devote to it, and figurative “time”; that is, the right time in your career. If you do not have time to regularly meet with your coach or mentor or don’t have time to try new techniques, you will not get full value out of the experience. In this case, you would be better served by postponing until your calendar is more favorable. Also, if you have recently transitioned into a role, you may need more time learning the role before coaching would make sense.

Start with goals. While we have emphasized the importance of goals before (September and December 2005), we cannot stress enough that the coaching or mentoring partnership will gain more traction sooner if development goals are clearly articulated early in the relationship. Goals provide direction to the relationship and give insight to the mentor or coach about you and how you learn.

Prepare yourself. You should spend time reviewing any available assessment information (360° Feedback, performance reviews) before your first meeting to ground yourself in where you are relative to where you want to be. You should also prepare for each meeting, preparing your thoughts and questions and reviewing open items from prior meetings.

Look for ideas you can use. While the discussion with your mentor or coach can be very engaging, we learn more by doing than by talking. Make sure each meeting ends with specific actions that you can take to further your learning and development. The list of actions you plan to take also provides a good starting point for the next meeting.

Be willing to try new things. Part of the benefit of working with a coach or mentor is the opportunity to explore new ideas and new courses of action. Purposefully stretch yourself and try things outside your comfort zone. You will learn a great deal by reflecting on the experience with your coach.

Take action between meetings. If you agree to do something with your mentor or coach, follow through. If you don’t have time, see the first point. If you are tempted to cancel an upcoming meeting because you haven’t done anything since the last meeting, don’t. The topic of the meeting should be what is standing in the way of you taking action.

Make a change if things aren’t working. Not all mentors and coaches will be a good fit for you. If you don’t feel you are making progress, discuss that issue in your next meeting. After all, this relationship should be benefiting you. If the two of you can’t find a solution that works for you, look for a different coach or mentor. Nothing is more frustrating to both parties than a poor fit.