Should You Use a Coach/Mentor?

There has been quite some debate within the coaching community about the need to improve methods of measuring effectiveness.

It’s time to share the results of our coaches and mentors poll. You may remember that, back in August, we launched a short survey. Thanks to those who participated. We now have stable enough results to give an interesting, at least initial, picture. As someone who works as an external coach and mentor, I was surprised  by some of these results. See if they accord with your experience. See also: How to Choose a Great Coach   Having given advice on understanding the difference between coaches and mentors, together with when you might need each, I was keen to see take-up. So, questions in this poll centered on three topics: use of coaches; use of mentors; personal development progress. Here is what you shared… Use of coaches In answer to the question, “Do you have a coach?“:
  • 57% No
  • 43% Yes
The following questions were only completed by the 43%, who answered "yes" to having a coach. In answer to the question, “What type of coach are they?“:
  • 33% Executive Coach
  • 33% Leadership Coach
  • 33% Professional Coach
Given the preponderance of "life coaches" and neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) coaches I have met at coaching events, it’s interesting to see those did not make the list. The focus on the most senior leadership roles still appears to hold true. But it was interesting to see professional coach selected as a title as well. In answer to the question, “Are they external to your employer?“:
  • 100% Yes
This was the first result to not have an element of surprise. It accords with my experience that most leaders (who do hire) only hire coaches externally, or view any such internal work as "mentoring." In answer to the question, “Do you believe you need a coach, to develop your leadership or to sustain high performance?“:
  • 60% Don’t know
  • 20% Yes
  • 20% No
This is perhaps the most concerning answer so far. There has been quite some debate within the coaching community about the need to improve methods of measuring effectiveness, to be able to demonstrate genuine progress or ROI for clients. This answer underlies the importance of that quest. If coaching clients themselves aren’t convinced they need a coach, there is probably more work to do on demonstrating what coaching delivers for them. We all need to see robust, understood metrics become commonplace. Use of mentors The next three questions in our survey focused on the use of mentors, with similar structure (to allow comparison with feedback on coaches). In answer to the question, “Do you have a mentor?“:
  • 67% Yes
  • 33% No
Those results bear out my own experience, of selling coaching or mentoring services into U.K. and European businesses. Many companies appear to value technical or professional mentoring, while remaining skeptical about coaching. Despite that, my experience in mentoring engagements almost always involved elements of coaching, and it may become apparent that is the client’s primary need. But, as mentors are more widely taken-up, let’s see how mentors are being used. The following questions were only completed by the 67%, who answered "yes" to having a mentor. In answer to the question, “Do they also work for your employer?“:
  • 60% No
  • 40% Yes
Given the common situation of mentoring being provided by senior leaders within a business, this answer also surprised me. It seems, perhaps in line with the experience I shared above, that the take-up of external mentors has increased. It may just be the language used, or perhaps reflects the time-poor nature of many business leaders. Are companies struggling to free their own senior leaders for mentoring and opting to buy-in mentoring expertise instead? Either way, the answer confirms the greater popularity of mentoring rather than coaching services. In answer to the question, “Do you believe you need a mentor, to develop in your career or succeed within your current organization?“:
  • 40% Yes
  • 40% No
  • 20% Don’t know
A more positive answer than the equivalent one for coaching, but still the majority answering “don’t know” or “no.” Perhaps the most interesting comparison is the lower number of undecided. It seems experiencing mentoring either clarifies that it is optional or identifies a clear need for this support. Once more, mentoring seems to be better understood than coaching. Personal Development Our final three questions focused on respondents' progress in their personal development and time commitment to any form of such investment. In answer to the question, “Do you have clear goals for your leadership development this year?“:
  • 50% No
  • 50% Yes
A concerning lack of clarity among responders to this question. If leaders really only have a 50:50 chance of having clear goals to develop their leadership capability, a need for goal-oriented coaching or mentoring is clear. It’s perhaps not surprising from increasingly time-poor leaders, working in business that too often focus on short-term targets. However, it is still concerning and perhaps something for prospective coaches or mentors to emphasize more – the benefits of such goal setting and how they can help clients use them. In answer to the question, “Are you on track to achieve your goals?“:
  • 60% Yes
  • 40% No
Given the lack of clear goals identified in the previous answer, this positive view of progress risks looking overly optimistic. But, with hindsight, perhaps the wording here encouraged leaders to think about their wider goals. Another interpretation is that without clear goals it is easier to persuade yourself that you are doing fine. Certainly, believing you are on track, while potentially lacking clear goals or any accountability mechanism, could be a recipe for complacency. Does that also drive a lower uptake of coaches? In answer to our final question, “How much time (per week) do you give to your personal development?“:
  • 67% 1-2 hours
  • 17% 3-4 hours
  • 17% >1 day
In the full version of this question, participants were asked to consider all development activities (coaching, mentoring, reading, training, events, etc). In that context, spending one to two hours a week (<5% of a 40-hour working week) seems far too little. Perhaps that is another sign that “short-termism” can rob leaders of investing what they need to grow and develop in their leadership. I’ve found that if you are not protecting sufficient time to develop your leadership skills, you not only fail to grow but also burn out quicker. What are you going to do about it? I hope those results were interesting. Feel free to share whether the scores aligned to your experience. If you have been challenged by this post, to reconsider investing more time in your personal development and perhaps seeking a coach or mentor, then stop right now. If that thought is going to become more than just wishful thinking, the best thing you can do is commit to an action you are going to take as a result. See also: Best Insurance? A Leadership Pipeline   What will you do differently, within the next two weeks? Write it down, preferably with an app that will remind you. I wish you well with your development as a leader. Today’s customer insight teams need the best leaders possible.

Paul Laughlin

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Paul Laughlin

Paul Laughlin is the founder of Laughlin Consultancy, which helps companies generate sustainable value from their customer insight. This includes growing their bottom line, improving customer retention and demonstrating to regulators that they treat customers fairly.


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