A mentor or a coach to help you get ahead?

Regardless of which one you choose, you'll end up a winner simply by seeking the additional help you need to grow on a personal level and to develop your business.

Katia Lavoie | Journalist

Coaches and mentors provide invaluable services to many entrepreneurs. But what exactly is their role? Here's a brief overview of what each professional brings to the table.

Mentors are like "professional grandparents." The expression is one that Chantal Duchesneau, a project manager with SAGE Mentorat d'affaires, once heard a mentee use.

For her, the expression clearly sums up the role of a mentor. "It's someone who is there to listen, to challenge, to share their experience as an entrepreneur and to get you to think," she explains.

Michel Nadeau, Senior Partner with Vézina Nadeau Labre and Executive Coach, describes a coach as "someone who helps people become aware of the situation they're in and find a way to manage the situation through their own solutions."

Coaches achieve this by asking questions. For example, if the objective is to improve communication, the coach will ask you:
  • How you communicate?
  • What impact did the communication have?
  • Was this the desired result?
  • How could you do it differently?
Similar but different at the same time
Coaches and mentors therefore use similar approaches to a certain point. They listen to understand; they ask questions; they challenge. This method makes the learning process more sustainable. Later, "when the participant faces other problems, they'll be able to find their own solutions because they've learned how to do it," explains Mr. Nadeau.
However, coaches and mentors also differ on several levels. 

Mentors work with a more holistic and slightly more personal vision.
  • An objective is not pre-defined at each meeting. It can change and it can be either personal or professional.
  • Mentors use their own experience as entrepreneurs.
  • They volunteer their services.
  • They also manage the emotional aspect. "People confide more in a mentor than they do in their spouse because sometimes, if they have financial concerns, their spouse may worry about losing the house, whereas the mentor has no financial stake or interest," explains Ms. Duchesneau.
  • Mentors generally provide support over a longer period of time (medium or long term) and the mentoring relationship ends by mutual agreement.
Coaches work from a more specific perspective
  • One or more objectives, defined based on needs, are agreed upon and set.
  • Coaches use a more structured approach.
  • They are paid.
  • The coaching period is defined at the start. According to the Quebec chapter of the International Coach Federation (ICF Québec), it depends on several factors, including the number and types of objectives, as well as the frequency of the sessions. For example, the coaching period can be three months or last longer than six months.
Which one to choose?
Both can help you find answers to your questions and develop your skills. 

However, consider a mentor if:
  • You are looking for a more flexible process that will continue as long as your mentor and you feel there is a need for it, regardless of what you are working on. 
  • You want to learn from the experience of another person who has followed a similar track. The mentor may not be in the same business as you but their experience will still apply.
  • You want something more than just to learn. You hope to establish a relationship of equals that allows you to "vent" when necessary.
A coach is the right option for you if:
  • A challenge is coming your way or your role in the company is expected to change in the near future. To deal with this situation, you need to acquire or improve certain skills like the ability to negotiate, delegate and be creative.
  • You generally feel more comfortable within a structured situation.
  • You want to achieve results in the shorter term.
Keep in mind that using the services of one doesn't mean you can't use the services of the other, depending on the situation. 

Great track record
Regardless of which one you choose, you'll end up a winner simply by seeking the additional help you need to grow on a personal level and to develop your business. 

"It's been proven that mentored businesses are twice as likely to survive beyond 5 years than non-mentored ones," says Ms. Duchesneau. In fact, 70% of businesses reach that fateful number with a mentor.
"A business owner was reflecting on his business development efforts. He felt his approach was no longer working and wondered if he was really cut out to be in business. As it turns out, he was! With some coaching and a new partner, his business is now booming," wrote Cécile Condé, a certified coach, in an ICF Quebec article. 

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