How Coaching or Mentoring Engagements Are Structured

When people first enter a coaching or mentoring relationship . . .

Question mark under a magnifying glass — Frequently asked questions about working with an executive coach or mentor

. . . they often have questions about what to expect. This page answers several questions which people commonly ask about working with a coach or mentor.

Clicking on any question reveals the answer in the panel below

►  Which is best for me, a coach or a mentor?

The answer to this question depends on what you want to achieve. While the terms "coaching" and "mentoring" are often used interchangeably, they are technically two different functions. At SLDI we distinguish them with the following definitions:

Coaching is a paired dialogue in which a facilitator (the coach) uses questions, feedback, and encouragement to help the other party reach a desired goal through mastery of new skills, deeper self-understanding, improved effectiveness, and accelerated achievement.

Coaching, in other words, is focused on near-term and sometimes immediate outcomes which make a telling difference in performance. It is somewhat akin to an athlete being coached on the sidelines during an intense competition.

By contrast, mentoring is a paired relationship, the aim of which is to transfer wisdom and insight from someone with veteran experience (the mentor) to another person with more limited experience (the mentee) in a setting of collegial dialogue.

In short, a mentor is someone who "shows you the ropes." Whereas coaching aims at improved performance in an immediate situation, mentoring aims at increased wisdom and understanding in the broader context of life.

For more on this distinction, see What's the difference between coaching and mentoring?

►  How long are coaching or mentoring engagements?

About two-thirds of our LeaderPerfect® coaching engagements are six to nine months long, with two ninety-minute sessions per month. The length of mentoring sessions is usually more varied. And mentoring engagements tend to last a bit longer.

Where a client has a narrow, highly focused goal for coaching, an engagement may be as short as three months. We have also had clients whose engagements lasted for two or three years because of the on-going benefit which they derived from the coaching or mentoring relationship.

►  What does a coach or mentor expect of me?

What your executive coach or executive mentor wants from you first of all is honesty and candor — honesty about yourself and candor about how you feel. Be open about your fears and frustrations. Your dreams and aspirations. Your strengths and your limitations. Your executive coach's primary role is to help you overcome things which limit your effectiveness.

Second, your executive coach or mentor wants you to make a good faith effort. A coach will often nudge you out of your comfort zone and challenge you to stretch your wings. And no coach expects you to succeed perfectly the first few times that you try something new. But your coach has a right to see genuine effort from you.

Third, your executive coach will expect you to "do your homework." Executive coaches routinely make assignments to be completed between sessions. You may be asked to read an article or part of a book. Or to complete a written exercise or practice a new skill. Whatever it is, your coach will plan your next coaching session on the assumption that you have completed your assignment.

►  What can I expect of a coach or mentor?

First, you can expect absolute confidentiality. Just as you are being candid and honest with your coach, the coach reciprocates by holding everything you say in strictest confidence.

Second, your executive coach will faithfully protect proprietary information. Since executive coaching pointedly discusses your duties, roles, and responsibilities, "inside information" inevitably comes into the conversation. Your coach will always safeguard that information and prevent its disclosure to outside parties.

Third, you can expect honest feedback from your coach. In effect, you and your executive coach (or mentor) form a "feedback loop" in which open and forthright communication must prevail. The coach may praise one moment, prod the next, always with a goal of helping you achieve your best.

Fourth, you can expect your coach to hold you responsible for your own progress. Executive coaches and mentors provide tools, resources, and encouragement to support your progress. But ultimately you are the one who must make the changes which make a difference.

For further information on what to expect of a coach, examine our commitments to you as your executive coach or mentor.

►  How do we get started? What happens first?

Your coach is likely to use the first session or two to become familiar with you, your position, and your responsibilities. Where companies do not have a standard practice of 360-degree reviews, your coach may ask permission to undertake one. Your coach may also ask you to complete questionnaires that provide clearer insight into your personality, work habits, and management style.

Out of these initial assessments, you and your coach will define a game plan that spells out the specific areas which your coaching will address. That plan will usually look out three to six months. As your coaching relationship continues, game plan priorities will be periodically adjusted.

►  How is our time together structured?

Whether your coaching is face-to-face, virtual, or by phone, most sessions will have a similar structure:

  • a quick update on how things are going for you generally
  • a review of any "homework assignment" from your last session
  • a clear statement of the specific focus for the present session
  • a coaching or mentoring conversation built around that focus
  • assignments to be launched or completed by the next session
  • a confirmation of when the next session will occur

To accomplish all of this in the time allotted means that your executive coach will work diligently to keep the session " on target." This is not a time for idle chit-chat. Should the conversation begin to digress, your coach will pull it back on topic. If the digression has identified a topic that deserves fuller exploration, your executive coach is likely to recommend devoting special attention to it in a later session.

►  Can an engagement be conducted virtually or by phone?

In general, coaching and mentoring are more effective when conducted in person, face-to-face. But there are definite advantages to coaching and mentoring by phone or in an online format.

Distance is one consideration. We not only have coaching and mentoring clients throughout North America, but on other continents, as well. In many of these instances, the travel cost to deliver an engagement face-to-face is prohibitive.

Flexibility is another consideration. When scheduling conflicts arise unexpectedly, it's usually much easier to adjust the timing of a phone call or an online meeting than to set a new time for an in-person session.

We therefore accommodate whatever arrangement works best for you. Often this turns out to be a hybrid arrangement, where some sessions are delivered in person, others by phone or through online meetings.