The topic this week is one that I have touched on over the years in various ways. People reach out to me all the time asking about this. Coaching, as well as mentoring, often get placed in the same category. In reality, they are different. We will discuss the differences between innovation coaching and mentoring and will run through some application scenarios.
When it comes to the topic of coaching and mentoring, many people often find themselves confused. They don’t understand that innovation coaching and innovation mentoring are not the same. Coaching is the most common activity when it comes to innovation.
In general, coaching and mentoring are two of the top five most popular jobs out there. Innovation coaching is kind of like a sports coach. In baseball, there is a pitching coach who trains pitchers to improve in their craft. Pitching coaching is just like innovation coaching, as it seeks to help one improve in a specific area based on an assessment. It tends to be limited in duration. Also, it only works best with measurable and tangible improvement opportunities.
A good innovation coach will offer clear direction for improvement based on an assessment of one’s needs. Coaching can be on the individual level, team level, or for an entire organization. An innovation coach should be able to assess and tell you what area you need to improve. They should lay out a plan for improving and being more successful in a specific area.
Mentoring is a less specific and tangible area that looks at the big picture, such as your career. An innovation mentor is a trusted advisor that crosses personal and professional lines and might be with you for many years. They help craft broader goals along with the skills and experiences to achieve them. When looking for an innovation mentor, choose someone you can learn from. You want one that has achieved innovation success in their career.
Usually focused on the individual, I have done long-term mentoring for innovation teams as well. Mentoring sessions are less formal than coaching sessions and are on an as-needed basis. Fees for mentoring most likely come from the individual. A successful mentoring role should last many years and stay constant no matter if the organization you’re in changes.
There may be no fees required in rare cases if you become close to the mentor. Don’t expect mentoring to be free just because some mentors might typically do it out of the kindness of the heart. Remember, mentoring relationships require time and transparency to be successful. A mentor can’t do their job if you are not honest with them, and vice versa.
Coaching vs. Mentoring
One of the best ways to show the differences between an innovation coach or mentor is to run through some scenarios.
First scenario: Your team is struggling to create a pitch for an idea to secure funding from your organization. You need to figure out the best way to structure your pitch to secure the funding. Is innovation coaching or mentoring the best way to aid you in your pursuit? In this situation, you could hire an innovation coach because it is a specific issue you are trying to resolve. You want to find a coach that has an excellent track record of helping teams craft pitches. Be sure to pay the coach for the work they are doing, rather than saying you’ll pay them upon success.
Second scenario: Your CEO has asked you to develop innovation leaders within your existing staff. Would this be innovation coaching or mentoring? With a longer-term goal that is not tangible, so in this case, it would be innovation mentoring in a team setting.
Third scenario: Your team is running up against internal and external innovation anti-bodies (naysayers), and you need help in crafting a strategy to win the organization’s support. In this situation, you need help with a specific issue within your organization, so this is an innovation coaching opportunity. You need a strategy coach to help deal with the anti-bodies and win your organization’s support.
Fourth scenario: You have decided to improve your innovation abilities and skills to be more successful. This scenario is a textbook case of innovation mentoring. Here you need help in establishing your long-range career to have a successful career in innovation.
Today, we talked about the differences between innovation coaching and innovation mentoring. As we discussed, there is a difference between coaching and mentoring. Coaching is about solving particular issues such as communication skills, deliverables, executive presence, etc. Mentoring comes with long-term career advice.
My first mentor was my boss at Deltek, Bob Davis. Bob hired me and put me into the first management role of my career. He knew I could be a great software engineer, but as my mentor, he told me I had broader skills than that. I had to put in a lot of extra work to develop myself under Bob’s mentorship. He put me on a career rotation, placing me in finance, marketing, advertising, sales, and IT, which helped me grow. Bob helped me think through my long-term goals and what opportunities I should look out for.
Today, I do innovation coaching and mentoring and have done small companies up to Fortune 10 companies. I’ve coached and mentored CEOs, CTOs, and CIOs, some lasting up to seven years long.
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To know more about the difference between innovation coaching and innovation mentoring, listen to this week's show: Innovation Coaching and Innovation Mentoring – What is the difference?