Every high performing athlete or employee has a coach. And it goes without saying, every athlete or employee who aspires to be one of the elite high-performing individuals out there ought to have a coach. I know this sounds self-serving but it’s a fact. Check this out:

Coaching in organization and leadership settings is also an invaluable tool for developing people across a wide range of needs. The benefits of coaching are many; 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence, and over 70% benefit from improved work performance, relationships, and more effective communication skills. 86% of companies report that they recouped their investment on coaching and more (source: ICF 2009).

Benefits of Coaching

As a coach, I seek a lot of coaching from peer and professional coaches too (on an as needed basis) and I’ve found that to be the most transformative experiences of my life. There’s something else that I believe high performers should seek out more proactively — mentoring.

People often confuse mentoring with coaching. They’re both different and there’s no such as a thin red line between them.

Definition and Focus

Mentoring: A more informal association focused on building a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship for long-term career movement.

Coaching: A more formal structured association focused on improvements in behavior and performance to resolve present work issues or handle specific aspects of the job.


Mentoring: Talking with a person who has identified his needs prior to entering into a mentoring relationship. The emphasis is on active listening, providing information, making suggestions, and establishing connections.

Coaching: Talking to a person, identifying what he needs, and developing an action plan. The emphasis is on instruction, assessing, and monitoring.


Mentoring: This is a self-directed modus operandi whereby participants have choices. This approach can begin with a self-matching process and continue throughout the relationship using a committed timeline to determine how often and where individuals will meet, identify goals, and so forth.

Coaching: A structured modus operandi is more frequently used whereby participants are working within a narrower perspective; their agenda is more specific, shorter in duration, and oriented toward certain results. Usually a coach is assigned to an employee.


Mentoring: The most important tool is the Mentoring Agreement—developed, completed, and signed by both participants. This document formalizes commitment to the mentoring relationship. Items include individual goals, learning content, a meeting schedule, and communication methods.

Coaching: Depending on the individual situation, various assessment instruments can be used such as skills training activities and teaching evaluations. A contract can be issued regarding the problem to be resolved or skills to be learned.

Mentoring vs Coaching: What’s the Difference?

Now that we’ve got the differences out of the way, we need to address the most important aspect in a mentor and mentee (the one being mentored) relationship — understanding how it works. Note that I’m not covering how to seek a mentor out purely because that’s your business and you will essentially know the moment you find your future mentor. Remember this, “the teacher appears when the student is ready.”

Most people think mentoring is about getting solutions. It is. But mentoring is mostly about drawing wisdom from someone else’s experience, not for entertainment but application purposes. Let me explain, a majority of people want to seek advice because they would like a favor or just want a one-off solution that will get them out of trouble.

I like John Maxwell’s take on learning from the best. You have to:

  1. Get committed — even if it means paying for their time!
  2. Be consistent — meet often and have a purposeful agenda to maximize the time to learn.
  3. Be creative — read their books, blogs, podcasts or other works that are out there.
  4. Be purposeful — prepare before each and every meeting. Without fail. Not doing so is a waste of your time and most importantly their time, which is clearly more valuable than yours. (Suck it up, chump. That’s the truth.)
  5. Be reflective — reflect on the discussion that you’ve had. This is where you not only learn but ingrain some of the ideas you discussed during your meeting.
  6. Be grateful — it’s a gift to get some time and insights from someone who’s walked the path you want to walk on. Thank them for it.

In the book 15 Laws Invaluable Laws of Growth, John also mentioned about the responsibilities of a mentee:

  1. Possess a teachable spirit
  2. Always be prepared for the time you get with your mentor.
  3. Set the agenda and have some great questions to ask (good leaders always ask great questions… but I don’t want to you to become a question bank of sorts. That becomes a little too annoying.)
  4. Demonstrate how you’ve learned from your time together
  5. Be accountable for what you’ve learned.

Let me tell you, that’s a lot of work as a mentee. And whoever thought this was easy just missed the point. A relationship with a mentor is a major commitment and you’re either ready for it or not. There’s no scope for dabbling or trying it out because doing so will only erode trust.

Mind you, your mentor should be incentivized for investing time in you. That doesn’t mean you have to pay them (though you can, if you afford it or want to as a token of appreciation) but you should always follow through on the suggestions/advice they pass on to you. That helps them validate and genuinely invest time in you.

In the book, one of John’s mentee shared an insight which I personally think is the gold standard framework for this unique relationship. They’re just four simple questions. But powerful ones at that.

  1. Here’s what I asked
  2. Here’s what you shared
  3. Here’s what I did
  4. Now can I ask more questions?

If you just remember these four questions from the post, I think you understand how this relationship works and how committed you have to be a worthy mentee. Are you?

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