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“We need mentors, not coaches”

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The papers and our emails are permanently awash with the new schemes being set up to offer mentoring, many of them government backed.  

It’s all part of our Dave’s initiative for the Big Society – and in this case the Big Business Society – helping each other to turn the country around (as successive governments have failed be able to do). I’m a believer in this principle; I see the country as exactly the same as running a business and without the staff working together to common aim, you are pretty well sunk, whatever you try.  

Yet, like all hyped up good intentions, particularly government- and massive PR-backed ones, they can go awry. 

Involved in several schemes as I am, I am all too aware of the huge discrepancies between efficient, well-run and properly-monitored schemes and ones that are run with no discrimination and very little effect in order to obtain a nice chunk of tax payers’ cash.  his can only get worse as the schemes increase. 

I have a much bigger concern. Talking to a government-run body recently, they offered a “give back” to the mentors in the form of a government course on how to mentor.  

I investigated what people had been taught on this course: a quick dip into the world of coaching, the skill of open-ended questions and the necessity of not actually giving any advice yourself.    

This is appalling news for the business world. Do not misunderstand me – many business coaches do a great job. But the government schemes are appearing to confuse the definition between mentoring and coaching.   

Coaching is all about facilitating the coachee to do their thinking. A mentor is a more senior, more experienced person who advises from a position of experience.  

Nor should either by confused with counselling which focuses on the cause of problems and the past – both mentoring and coaching are about the future. All have their strengths in their own areas but none should be confused. 

The cynic in me suggests that the government bodies have confused these words because of the litigious society we live in. 

Firstly, I am finding people being put forward as mentors with little or no specific or general business experience to offer. To offer mentors who actually give advice leaves the door open for both the individual mentor and the body offering same to get royally sued should something go wrong and no sufficient disclaimer in place.  

However, in preventing people from sharing their experience, the overall Big Society aim is defeated on its purpose before it begins. All that happens is that we will produce an overabundance of barely-trained people smiling vacuously and attempting the job of a fully-trained business coach and being unable to pass on the benefit of their acquired wisdom.    

What a tragedy for what should be a really worthwhile project. I personally thank heaven for finding one of the brave individuals who really have done it, and is prepared to help and advice me.  I am one of the lucky ones – I hope others will beware the confusion.

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