Mentor or Coach

From Weekly I/O#71

Mentors offer directive instruction and answers, whereas coaches provide non-directive feedback through questions. Whether seeking or giving guidance, we should know what kind of help is better.


Mentoring and coaching, though sometimes used interchangeably, serve different roles in guiding other people. While mentors offer direct solutions with answers based on their experiences, coaches provide non-directive support by probing with questions.

When seeking guidance, we must determine whether we need a mentor or a coach. A coach asks us what we want to do, dives deep into why we want to do it, and holds us accountable to execute our plan. On the other hand, a mentor shares their experience, skills, and knowledge and answers our questions.

In other words, coaches clarify the confusion within ourselves, and mentors clarify the confusion in the outside world. Similar to the Dark Room Metaphor for learning, coaching is Constructionism, letting us reconstruct our own answer, and mentoring is Instructionism, passing down knowledge to us.

When giving guidance, it is also essential to determine whether to wear the mentor's hat, offering solutions, or the coach's hat, posing reflective questions. Oftentimes, people don't need a solution. They need validation, accountability, or just a sounding board. That's why the coach must ask what you really want to do.

This also reminds me of Lisa Feldman's view on emotions. When we want to be helpful in response to other's feelings, we first need to figure out what they want is empathy or solution.

This thought originated from a conversation with Jui-An Wang. Also, thanks to Heron Yang for helping me clarify direction by being such an effective coach and poking questions.

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