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The Key Difference Between Coaches and Mentors

It’s always amusing when I hear someone say “I need a coach”, and then a few minutes later they say “I need a mentor.”

So which is it?

Coach?  Or Mentor?Coaches and mentors have the same goal: both want to see the client make progress toward their vision.

Don’t miss this. To be effective with a coach or a mentor, YOU’VE got to have a vision.

Your vision might be big or small.

It might be long-term or short-term.

You could take on something you want to do by yourself or something that takes a team.

Every one of these options can be handled by both coaching and mentoring.

Both coaching and mentoring are most effective when you know where you want it to take you. There is a direct connection between clarity and progress. Like the old song says, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there!”

Coaching and mentoring are intentional relationships. The intention in the relationship defines how the coach or mentor interacts with the client.

The client supplies the vision, and the coach/mentor brings the intention.  This intention defines how the coach/mentor interacts with the client, specifically on how the client’s next step gets chosen.

A mentor will offer you advice or guidance. They will tell you about things they’ve experienced and unpack how those things might apply to your life. A mentor will try to replicate skills in you that they have already learned. It’s almost like they are cloning a small part of who they are–and how they are–in you.

A coach really won’t do any of those things. A coach will draw out of you what you know was inside of yourself but maybe are hesitant to talk about. The coach will ask you a lot of questions, and will wait patiently while you answer them–even if it takes three or four tries. Coaches will help you connect the dots inside of your head, and then choose what action you want to take. An effective coach will even help you evaluate and apply the things you’re learning about yourself.

There’s no advice or guidance in coaching…unless the coach is switching between coaching and mentoring (which happens all the time, despite what coaches will tell you!)

Someone who has both coaching and mentoring skills will teach you something when teaching is most effective. But they’ll also step back and emphasize listening to help you make the connections or discoveries you need to make when that’s the most appropriate strategy. Sometimes they’ll pour in and sometimes they’ll draw out. In every situation, they should journey with you to wherever it is your vision is calling you.

You supply the vision. They supply the support.

If you’re looking for someone to speak into your life or to help you make sense of what’s going on in your life, the first step is to get clear on the vision you’re pursuing. Where are you going?

The next step is deciding if you want a coach or a mentor. Maybe both sets of skills have valuable things to add to your effectiveness.

  • Sometimes you need someone who has been there and done that.
  • Sometimes you need someone who has the kind of experience that you’re looking for.
  • Sometimes you need to just be with someone who’s done nothing you’re trying to accomplish yourself.

This is when you need a mentor. Church planters are often greatly blessed by being mentored by someone who has been there and done that.


  • Other times you’re blazing new trails, or going somewhere where no one has gone before.
  • Other times the most helpful thing is to have someone who can just help you make sense of all the crazy thoughts running through your mind.
  • Other times it’s most useful to be able to push pause with someone and try to figure out what’s actually going on.

These other times are when coaching is most effective. Any startup environment can be enhanced with the presence of an effective coach. You’re often building the plane as you fly it, so that relatoinship that adds perspective is key.

So, what’s your vision? And what kind of intentional relationship would be most helpful? I’d love to hear what you’re taking on. Hit me up in the comments below.

How Your Coaching Relationships Are Like Your Relationship with God

Sometimes a book that has nothing to do with coaching or leadership will change how you view an important piece of your coaching practice. As I read a book by Skye Jethani recently, I felt my coaching practice shifting under my feet.

Skye Jethani's Book "With"

Skye Jethani’s Book “With”

Skye Jethani is the editor of Leadership Journal, a podcaster (as a part of the Phil Vischer Podcast), author and speaker. He’s one of theose guys that runs in Christian leadership circles, but doesn’t make headlines for any of the excesses we’ve seen too much of over the last few years.

In 2011, Skye Jethani put out a book with the simple title of With.
Skye Jethani's Book With

Without revealing everything that’s in this book (which you should read, by the way…click on the cover image and you’ll be taken to the book’s page on Amazon–Affiliate link), Jethani begins by descrbing four common sets of expecations Christians have for God, and then suggests a better way. I see a lot of coaching relationships along this same vein.

In With, Jethani describes:

  • Life from God–We engage God on our terms and expect blessings to flow our way, basically on demand from God. But we have no day-to-day experience in connecting to God. What we’re saying to God: I want what you can do for me, not you.
  • Life over God–We engage tols from all around us in an effort to catalyze activity and control the actions of the people around us (and yourself); in the process, leaving no room for God to act. What we’re saying to God: you aren’t acting fast enough or accurately enough for my plan so I’m taking over.
  • Life for God–We organize our lives so that we can claim that what we want its impact for God and demonstrate results that can clearly and esily be connected as God-honoring. What we’re saying to God: what we really want is more impact than others (who waste their impact–allegedly).
  • Life under God–We make a deal with God and do what God wants so he’ll protect me, and those important to me. What we’re saying to God: I’m afraid of you, but I still all your protection on my side so that I don’t have to worry about myself or the people who are important to me.

Pretty convicting profiles, huh? Jethani goes on to describe another way forward Life WITH God. (Get the book title now?) It’s really good, and I recommend you checking it out.

As I read With, I couldn’t help seeing my coaching relationships through a similar lens. Now, let’s just eliminate any confusion: I’m not suggesting coaches are Gods or that a coaching relationship has any saving power.

I will plant the seed that the very lessons Skye Jethani is calling us to understand for our relationship to our creator can apply to how we interact with our clients.

How many of these relationships seem familiar to you? Read the following scenarios, and check out the suggested coaching strategies.

  • Results from the Coach–A client comes to you to engage you because you have been effective with someone he/she knows. The want you to do for them what you did for ________________.
    • What the client is saying to you: I’m looking for a silver bullet.
    • Coaching Strategy: Engage the client on the details of THEIR situation. While there might be parallels to the other person’s situation, you’ll need to find the uniqueness of THIS client’s circumstances.
  • Results over the Coach—The client has a new idea or tool in every session, and wants to figure out how to apply every single one to their situation. ANYTHING to get an edge. Effort is not the problem, and neither is focus. The challenge is choosing the right tool for the job and not the next tool.
    • What the client is saying to you: I’m not going to miss opportunities like other people do.
    • Coaching Strategy: Engage the client around the benefits of each tool and help them categorize where/when each tool might be helpful.
  • Results for the Coach–The client seems to have plenty of motivation, and is happy to point out everything they accomplish to you, their coach. Every session will begins with a long recitation of all their accomplishments since last session. No further progress can be explored until the coach signs off or gives approval.
    • What the client is saying to you: I really want your approval.
    • Coaching Strategy: Dig beneath the surface of the accomplishments and explore how the client stays personally motivated. Ask coaching questions like “What gives you the most personal satisfaction?” and “How do you know you’re making the most progress?”
  • Results under the Coach–This is the least common of the four coaching connections, and usually only comes up when a coaching relationship is assigned or is required by some outside circumstance. The client will go through the motions of the coaching conversation, and will look to only do the absolute minimum in order to satisfy the demands of the coaching agreement.
    • What the client is saying to you: I don’t really think this will do anything for me.
    • Coaching Strategy: Focus on the progress in the relationship. If you can help the client realize that he/she is moving toward a new future, you can build trust with the client. This is especially powerful when the client realizes that they are learning that they themselves can change and make different choices.

And just like in the With book, there is another way forward as well: Results With The Coach.

In this relationship, coach and client work powerfully together. The conversation engages both people at a deep level.

The client turns to the coach as a trusted resource…even outside of scheduled coaching conversations.

The coach is confident in their own skills and the foundation on which the relationship to fully let the client set the agenda and lead the conversation.

The client is fully invested in coaching, to the point of coming to each session 100% prepared and ready to work.

The coach is also prepared and defaults to listening at all times. When the time is right, a specific question with context gets asked.

The client responds thoughtfully to every question and learns about themselves, their situation and the actions.

When done well, coaching is powerful and empowering for the client. This is what *Results With The Coach means. The client gains confidence AND accomplishes their goals.

What strategies do you use to assess when your client has moved into from, over, for or under your coaching? How do you get back to WITH? I’d love to hear your comments!

Why Some Coaches Almost Always Encourage Their Clients

In a recent training, I had one of those moments where you could almost see the lightbulb turn on over the other person’s head.

The group had been working on listening skills, and the student was trying out their new skills on me. “What I think you’re saying is that one of the prime jobs of a coach is to encourage the person you’re coaching.”

Encouraging words

photo credit: Key Foster via photopin cc

Yep. They were getting it. The lightbulb was on, but I could also see that this realization was troubling.

And then they dropped the bomb.

“But what if the coach themselves is feeling discouraged…even about their own coaching? What do I do then?”

Mirroring a client’s comments/posture/behavior is a powerful way to build relationship or develop direct communication. That same mirroring–intentional or not–can also share less-than-positive outcomes/mindsets between coach and client.

A coach’s behavior/posture is contagious to the client. This is all good when the coach is a positive, upbeat place, but when life gets the better of a coach, what do you do?

Every coach bumps up against this at some point. You know the client needs an encouraging word or question, and there’s just nothing in the tank for you to offer.

Usually, a lack of self care causes this Empty Tank Syndrome, but there are strategies a coach can use to manage the disconnect between the difference in your levels of optimism or encouragement.

Here are seven things you can do to put yourself in the gap beween coach and client:

Reflect on what is causing your discouragement. Sometimes just admitting what has gotten you down takes care of it.

Talk to your coach. Coaches are encouragers, and that is one of the main things a client receives from their coach. You should be tapping into this source as well. Every coach should HAVE a coach!

Evaluate your calendar. Personally, the most common source of discouragement for me is when I have too much going on and not enough space between commitments. One of the most encouraging moments I face is when I wrap up and remove projects from my calendar/To Do list. The freedom that comes with that clean up is exhilarating!

Pray. Coaching is a calling. Getting in touch (or back in touch) with the source of that calling is like taking a drink of cold water on a hot day.

Get some continuing education. Often discouragement comes when a coach feels like their skills have fallen into a rut. Attend a training event or coach’s gathering to add new energy to your practice.

Exercise. If I’m really honest about it, this is the one I do the least of…and it’s probably the one that makes the most difference. Your mood can change dramatically with just 10–20 minutes of movement. And that is contagious.

Engage the practice of gratitude. For most Americans in general and most coaches in particular, there are many more reasons to be thankful than to focus on where we’re left wanting or missing something else. Investing in a practice of gratitude can help you focus on what you have and not what you’re missing.

So what are your thoughts? What do you do as a coach to put yourself in a position to be as helpful as possible to your clients, even when your personal outlook is less-than-inspiring? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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