“It’s never nice to hear advice you know you’ll never use.”
Shillin’ for the Blues by Chris Smither on his 2006 CD Leave The Light On
Do you need a mentor or a coach?
Here’s how to decide. But first, a simple distinction:
A mentor looks after your interests whereas a coach looks after your skills.
A mentor is normally an older person in the same organization who takes a younger colleague under his or her wing.
The mentor has two main tasks: to promote a career path for the junior person (by speaking up for this person in meetings and introducing him or her to other powerful people) and by telling the person how to fit in better (style, behavior, dress, projects to volunteer for, and so on).
Thus, a mentor will help you get ahead by opening doors for you. (Outside mentors don’t really help you get ahead in the same organization, but can still help you with your career in general, by introducing you to other industry players, for example.)
A coach helps you to perform better or be more successful, however you define that for yourself.
For example, as an executive coach, I mainly focus on helping executives to become more effective at what they do, to achieve the outcomes that matter for the organization. Other coaches focus on achieving different things.
Thus, a coach will help you spot issues as they develop, deal with problem areas, work on your strengths, eliminate weaknesses, stuff like that.
Here is my simple summary:
A coach will help you get yourself ahead whereas a mentor will help you get ahead.
In other words, you should have both and I encourage my clients to identify possible mentors for themselves.