Coaching and mentoring: what they are and why you need them

Read time: 5 minutes

June 19, 2023

Coaching and mentoring: what they are and why you need them

Table of Contents

  1. What is a coach or mentor?
  2. What does coaching and mentoring look like?
  3. Who needs a coach or mentor?
  4. Leadership coaching = mentoring magic
  5. 934 Talent coaches and mentors

Look closely at all great stories and you'll see, standing beside the hero at moments of great challenge or significant change, a guide…

A coach or mentor. 

The role is multifaceted, yet not opaque: they prepare the hero for adventure, guide them to greatness - unveil and unlock the qualities the reader can see, but the hero has yet to realise. 

Such is the importance of coaches and mentors, the archetype is one of the most recognisable in the stories we tell - and in the lives we lead. 

We learn best from others and we develop and progress through fortuitous relationships with those around us. 

No wonder, then, that 71% of Fortune 500 companies use a career coaching programme, and 75% of executives credit their mentors with their success. 

Industry 4.0 is here: change is rapid, career transitions are wanted and needed, the leaders of tomorrow need support to run the businesses of the future. 

Read on to explore coaching and mentoring, what a coaching and mentoring relationship can look like, and why having one is likely the missing piece in your own story. 

What is a coach or mentor? 

Image with this quote "I am not a teacher, but an awakener. –Robert Frost"

Let's head to a galaxy far far away to unpick the role of the mentor and 'feel the force' of its impact on the mentee. 

Film and literature often present mentors as 'wise, old men', and Star Wars: A New Hope is no exception. Obi-Wan Kenobi's appearance within minutes of the 1977 film's opening sets Luke on his quest for retribution and personal development in the form of Jedi training. 

However, as the Harvard Business Review points out: "Just as the notion of a 50-year linear career with a single company or in one industry is outdated, so is the idea that career advice must come from a wise old sage."

While Obi-Wan directly offers to mentor Luke, the film reveals a greater truth about what mentors can be and do for us. The other characters serve as mentors arguably more so than the sagacious Obi-Wan: 

  • Han Solo teaches Luke to question authority
  • Yoda lifts him through his darkest spiritual despair
  • The droid RD-D2 reveals to Luke the value of friendship

The film reflects the reality that the mentors we have in our lived experience come in many different forms - friends, family, colleagues - and come into our lives for different durations, performing many different roles. You may even encounter a coach or mentor through a more formal employee development programme. 

But, great mentors share one trait: "They help people to take more control of their lives and find their own way to fulfilment." (Mike Pegg, MD of The Strengths Organisation Ltd.)

And, in the words of world-renowned coach, Sir John Whitmore:

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance.”

“Whether we coach, advise, counsel, facilitate, or mentor, the effectiveness of what we do depends in large measure on our beliefs about human potential. The expressions ‘to get the best out of someone’ and ‘your hidden potential’ imply that more lies within the person waiting to be released.”

Let’s explore how this potential is let loose…

What does coaching and mentoring look like?

At the heart of coaching and mentoring is conversation. But the form of that two-way talk - its parameters and duration - is as varied as the people conducting it. 

Expert mentor Jeanne Meister, a Founding Partner of Future Workplace, describes mentoring today as "more like Twitter and less like having a psychotherapy session."

But such is the multiplicity of forms of coaching and mentoring and types of mentors, mentoring can still take the form of formal long-term regular sessions. 

It comes down to the mentee's needs, the style of mentoring that best fits them, and the element of 'magic': the relationship between mentor and mentee. 

However - whether establishing a mentoring relationship as an individual or setting up mentoring within organisations as part of employee development programmes - it is vital to create clarity around the mentor's role: what it is and isn't. 

Johnson and Smith, writing for the Harvard Business Review, laid out, in their view, the approach that the best mentors take: to 'think like Michelangelo'. 

The famed sculptor didn't impose his will onto the stone he was to carve. Instead, he saw the stone's ideal form already existed within. It was simply his job to release it. 

The best mentors, they argue, take time to truly see their mentees' ideal selves and must: "earn trust, be accessible and listen generously" to do so. Through both affirmation of this self and by eliciting behaviour consistent with it, they will move their mentee closer to where they want to be. 

Who needs a coach or mentor?

One plus one = more done and more fun. - Richard Branson

Short answer: everyone does. 

Industry 4.0 is here - and everything is changing.  

Instead of the trajectory of the vertical ladder, the innovations of today's world and the rapid pace of change means leaders of tomorrow are evolving through more disparate - arguably more exciting - career trajectories. Described as the 'squiggly career' by career development consultants Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper, this fluidity around work also redefines success to include personal fulfilment, rather than large pay cheques. 

In 2020, the World Economic Forum reported that 42% of core skills required to perform existing jobs were expected to change - by last year. And that 133 billion new jobs would be needed by the end of this decade to meet the demands of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 

While AI and automation are core elements of how work is changing, it's a misconception that the workforce needs to upskill solely in tech or science. 

From the WEF: "We're also seeing a growing need for people to develop specialised skills for how they interact with each other. These include creativity, collaboration and interpersonal dynamics, as well as skills related to specialised sales, human resources, care and education roles."

Vital to embracing this new way of seeing 'a career', acquiring the skills to excel in your chosen path and negotiating myriad possible paths ahead? 


And the statistics back it up:

  • A five-year study by Gartner revealed that within organisations, mentees are promoted five times more often than those not in a mentoring programme.
  • 25% of employees who enrolled in a mentoring program had a salary-grade change, compared to only 5% of workers who did not participate
  • And in a survey by the Harvard Business Review, 84% of mentees said mentors had helped them avoid costly mistakes 

In transitions such as a career change or personal challenge, advice from someone who has done it before or can support you objectively can be helpful. "You may need a mentor when the environment around you is changing rapidly, and you haven't had a chance to keep up with the changes," says Meister. 

Yet, many others see mentoring as a consistent component of their life. 

Participants in a study by the American Psychological Association were found to be 40% more likely to achieve their goals if they wrote them down: but this increased to 70% if they shared their goals with someone to keep them accountable, such as a mentor. 

The same study's findings show that checking on your progress frequently increases your likelihood of succeeding. When you work with a coach or mentor, regular meetings will facilitate this key step.

Leadership Coaching = Mentoring Magic 

A mentoring relationship is the foundation of some of the planet's most dynamic individuals and their achievements: 

  • Steve Jobs mentored Mark Zukerberg
  • Maya Angelou mentored Oprah Winfrey
  • Warren Buffet mentored Bill Gates

Richard Branson also credits the success of Virgin Atlantic with British airline entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker and is effusive about the importance of a mentoring relationship: "'A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could go because someone else thought they could'. So go out and find the right mentor to help you along the road to success."

934 Talent coaches and mentors

Our seasoned coaches and mentors empowers individuals’ and organisations’ evolution at transformational moments. 

Coaches and mentors, as we’ve seen, enable dreams. Find yours with 934 Talent. 

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