As the profession moves forward in the personal development that we sorely need, have you noticed that the terminology is changing as well? Words like development or support in job adverts and articles are being replaced with better sounding words like coaching, mentoring and consultancy. It’s especially important as vet businesses strive to differentiate themselves in the race to recruit new vets or to describe their company culture, values and space for personal growth.

However, as I speak to colleagues who operate in the coaching space, see adverts for academies or courses and indeed as I promote my consultancy services to vets and companies, I’m noticing a worrying trend. As a profession, we seem to be using coaching and mentoring interchangeably and this is a problem, because they’re very different activities and its all about one thing.

The amount of input from the facilitator and the client.

In a coaching or mentoring relationship there are generally two parties. Both provide input to the conversation, but depending upon the activity, one side provides more input than the other.

In a classic Harvard Business Review article in the spring of 1973, Robert Tannenbaum and Warren Schmidt described a continuum of leadership and management styles. They used a simple diagram to illustrate different styles of leadership and how much influence the boss or employee contributed to the discussion. It’s a seminal article to read as part of any leadership journey and a must read for managers seeking to understand how to empower and motivate staff.

The same continuum can be used to illustrate the relationship between consultancy, mentoring and coaching, so I’ve redrawn it below to help frame this discussion.

Coaching vs Mentoring

In my consultancy business, I’m paid for my expertise and knowledge in the field, for problem solving or I’m paid to do something that clients can’t do themselves. That’s how I add the value and it’s a directive process led by me.

In a mentoring relationship, the mentor provides advice and guidance and may well provide some coaching in addition, but that’s not the primary role. It’s a 50/50 relationship where the mentee assimilates the advice and synthesizes something new with it.

In coaching, advice isn’t given and the primary objective is to help a client improve performance to reach a goal. A coach will operate in a non-directive manner by asking questions and using various different tools to help the client draw out or crystalise their own thinking. Skills and independence are assumed in the coachee and you often find a secondary benefit of increasing self awareness.

So when we use mentoring and coaching interchangeably, we inevitably change the relationship between the facilitator and client. When most people think of a coach, they think of a classic sports coach that helps develop additional skills. This is training and skills acquisition and not the kind of coaching I’m talking about. If you think of more recent coaching examples, e.g. Dr Steve Peters1 with cycling stars like Sir Chris Hoy or Victoria Pendleton or Dr Dave Aldred2 coaching Jonny Wilkinson, it wasn’t their ability to do the sport that was important, it was their coaching skill that unlocked the potential of the athlete to perform.

I’m absolutely sure that this is an innocent mistake made by well meaning people when seeking to describe the support given to their teams, but it sets up a potential mismatch between employees and their employer and perpetuates one of our challenges in developing ourselves as vets. We find ourselves asking the question, “What could a non-veterinary coach know about my world and therefore do to help me?” We limit our thinking and performance.

It doesn’t matter what a coach knows about your world, because they’re not there to help you with advice. They’re there to help develop your performance and that’s a skill in it’s own right.

So if you are an employer, consider what you’re offering and if you’re a job seeker or employee, consider what you need. Sometimes the support you need is knowledge based, to grow your capabilities and become consciously competent at doing something in your job role. That means you need a mentor. Other times, you’ll be consciously competent already and you need support to improve your performance or to meet a goal. This is a coaching need. Without a goal to work towards, coaching doesn’t work.

Many vets I know would benefit from coaching, either personally, as a small business owner or for building and developing teams. I know I benefited from both a coach and a mentor at my old job and in fact I still do. It’s our blind spot and we owe it to ourselves to recognize this and act on it.

Get in touch with the VBC and we’ll be able to help. If we can’t provide the service ourselves, then we know someone who can.

  1. The Chimp Paradox by Dr Steve Peters
  2. The Pressure Principle by Dr Dave Aldred

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