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Concrete Examples

One way to think about the distinction is whether there are direct consequences to following or ignoring advice. Mentors advise; coaches assess. This is one reason why people often seek mentors outside the management chain. It’s hard to trust a manager to separate these two roles. Senior individual contributors – while they may also coach – are often better positioned to provide consequence-free advice.

Code review is a pervasive example of coaching being confused with mentoring. Code review is part of the job. Every time I review someone’s code, I might find opportunities for teachable moments




I’ve found that these conversations fall into three broad categories, ranging from the strategic to the tactical:

Faced with the question “what should I do?" , tell a personal story instead.

Mentoring and coaching activities look similar, but the impetus is different. In mentoring relationships, usually the mentee sets the agenda. In a coaching relationship, usually the coach sets the agenda. Coaching also tends to be more formal and more transactional. (People hire...

Sometimes, you see someone that you think has potential, but they’re not where they ought to be and they aren’t seeking advice. You could approach them – tell them you think they have potential and offer to mentor them.

There’s one take away I’d like you to have: mentoring is about listening. Resist the temptation to offer unsolicited advice. Listen to what they’re asking about. Goals? Situations? Or skills? Then listen (or observe) before sharing your questions, stories, or feedback.

To help someone understand their goals, ask questions that help them reflect on their current situation, consider potential futures, and chart a course from one to another.

First, you have to observe the mentee’s activities or output. For coding skills, code review or pair programming would work. For communication skills, sit it on a meeting they expect to actively participate in or watch them practice a presentation. For technical writing, read what they’ve written...

Let them take the lead without being prescriptive. You can still be sounding board for their ideas and help them wargame an approach to what they’re dealing with. Even without a story to guide them, having someone in their corner is valuable support.

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