Why You Shouldn’t Choose a Friend to be Your Mentor or Coach

lions-1230870_1920Yes I deliberately chose an image of lions to accompany this post because lions are not pussycats – even though in many ways they are larger versions of the domestic cat. (I’ll come back to that)

I read an article this week on Womens Agenda saying that your mentor should terrify you and then going on to make what I thought were three really good points.

  1. Your mentor should intimidate you because you ought to have an awesome mentor with amazing experience
  2. Your mentor should get grumpy with you if you don’t do the work you committed to do between sessions/meetings
  3. Your mentor should be blunt and very clear with you about expectations (no pussyfooting – lions do not pussyfoot, they stalk!)

As I reflect on my own style as a mentor and coach I recognise the same philosophies:

  • I will hold clients accountable to doing what it takes to reach their own goals (I don’t set your goals for you, yet I will collaborate with you on an action plan to get you there)
  • I thrive on enabling people in the early phases of their career with my relevant experience because if I can save you making some of the unnecessary mistakes that I did then I will do so – gladly!
  • I have a well earned reputation for listening carefully and without judgement before asking well timed and thought provoking questions. Those questions are not always easy to answer and yet time after time clients tell me that by opening up a different angle of thinking I have helped them to break through the challenge they had

By choosing a friend to mentor or coach you, you run the very strong and clear risk of not being stretched and challenged in a way that will help you grow as fully as you need to or want to.

A friend can also often be too close to us to give a new or fresh perspective or insight on what is going on and how to make effective change.

Your friends are also great to offer encouragement and a shoulder to lean on in those moments when it feels too hard – we all have those moments, but some of us leave them behind earlier than others.  If your friend tries to be both support and challenger it can get very confusing for both of you.

It’s kind of like expecting your loving, lap sleeping domestic cat to be able to defend you and your property from invasion. I’d suggest you need a dog to do that as barking is usually a great deterrent, or in line with the post get a lion! (I’m not serious as they are an endangered species and best left in the wild)

Let me take another angle at why I chose the lion image: lions work together effectively as a team yet they have a clear hierarchy and clearly assigned roles. There is affection and love between them except when they are hunting or defending the pride, or their young. That is why you need a mentor or coach who is a little bit scary – you need to know that this person has your back and will stretch you and help you to step up.  That’s why you need a lion and not a pussycat as your coach or mentor.

As a coach and mentor I often describe myself as a “critical friend” meaning that the style is to:

  • care about the person and put you first in all conversations and plans
  • focus on behaviour and results and focus you on the action plan needed to get you where you want to be
  • provide challenges as well as belief that you can meet your goals
  • ask the questions that others may not including about why you may be holding yourself back
  • consider a broader view including the context of what is happening and how each key person involved (including you) has contributed to the current situation

When you next consider engaging a coach or mentor – keep in mind that if you want to be more successful then you will need to do some things differently to how you have done them before. And that involves a stretch outside your comfort zone – growth only occurs when you are outside your comfort zone (although not so far away from what is comfortable that it creates stress and panic)


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