Over the years, I have mentored a lot of trainees. After discovering coaching and seeing my career transform after I started working with a coach, I have become a coach myself. I definitely use coaching techniques with my mentees, but the relationship I have with them is different from the one I have with my coaching clients. Coaching and mentorship are different but complementary approaches to moving your career forward. Potential clients often come to me expecting mentorship. My colleagues have also inquired about the difference between a mentor and a coach. While everyone’s style is a bit different, and both approaches can co-exist in the same relationship, I am reflecting here on what represents coaching versus mentorship.
Most coaches have formal training and work under the premise that mindsets create results. In general, you and your coach will pre-define clear goals for the time you work together. Your coach will guide you from curiosity. They will partner with you to help you choose actions based on the mindset aligned with your objectives. They don’t need to have direct knowledge in your field; they will work with you to use your wisdom to find a creative path toward your goal and overcome your challenges. Importantly, being paid and contractual, the relationship with your coach is more organized. Your coach shows up for you, on established terms and according to your schedule. Their focus is on your needs, and with their expertise, they will guide you to the solution to the problems you bring up in sessions with them.
Mentors’ philosophy is often that actions create results. They may not have formal training as mentors, but they are usually people in your field who will guide you from experience. The relationship with your mentor is likely to be hierarchical. Your mentor may be a role model. They will share the wisdom they have gained through direct experience of what you are trying to accomplish. They will advise you and share their solutions with you, as in “this is how I did it,” proposing actions to take. Mentors volunteer their time to help you, and most mentor-mentee relationships are informal. You will have access to your mentor on their terms and on their schedules. A mentor’s focus does not always align with your needs but will direct you towards what they perceive as the right way for you.
A brief word on another concept that is often thrown in the mix when it comes to bringing your career to the next level: sponsor! Sponsors can be coaches, but they are more often mentors. They are people who are more senior and well-positioned in your field. Sponsors will connect you to the right people, relay opportunities to you, promote you and advertise your successes.
Physicians and definitely academic physicians should have both mentors and coaches. Ideally, they will also have sponsors. Neither is the absolute solution. They are complementary supports towards a successful and fulfilling career. Whatever you aim to accomplish, coaching and mentorship will help you achieve it more easily and efficiently. Surround yourself on the way to success. You don’t have to figure it out alone.
Emilie Belley-Cote is a critical care physician.
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