Just as there are people who call themselves a coach without having a certificate or credential in coaching, there are practitioners who declare they are a Mentor Coach without specific training in this emerging area of professional practice and expertise. As public awareness of professional coaching grows, so does the expectation for enjoying a quality, effective experience. How do coaches rise to this challenge in order consistently strive for both technical excellence and authentic artistry that serves our chosen clients? Mentor Coaching is one effective method and is a requirement for certain levels of credential award to occur and be maintained.
A Mentor Coach partners with Coach-Clients who choose to increase professional coaching skills and artistry. In this partnership, a Mentor Coach supports practitioner core coaching competency expansion, witnesses and encourages that person’s unique approaches, and serves as an observer in a reciprocal process of learning and growth.
Readers of Steven R. Covey’s “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” will recognize the concept of “sharpening the saw.” Most professions require that practitioners regularly engage in activities that will enhance skill sets and applied expertise, and coaching is no exception. As an example, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) requires a total of 40 hours of continuing education every three years for re-credentialing purposes.
Mentor coaching is a process for professional development that incorporates observation, reflection and developmental feedback for enhancement of the skill sets and competencies inherent in professional coaching. Just as earning a credential and/or a certificate in coaching distinguishes the professional coach from the person who merely ‘hangs out a shingle’ as a coach, regularly engaging with a Mentor Coach attests to a coach’s dedication to his or her own professionalism and excellence.
As public awareness of professional coaching grows, so does the expectation for enjoying a quality, effective experience. How do coaches rise to this challenge in order consistently strive for both technical excellence and authentic artistry that serves our chosen clients?
Mentor coaching as defined by ICF has a built-in, focused ‘agenda’: continuing professional development that supports demonstration of and alignment with ICF coaching framework.
“Mentor Coaching provides professional services to develop the required coaching skills for an ICF Credential. This consists of coaching and feedback in a collaborative, appreciative and dialogued process based on observation of live or recorded coaching sessions, to increase the coach’s capability and consistent application of ICF Core Competencies in their coaching practice.”
Just as in a coaching relationship, the Coach-Client is invited to:
For optimal shared ownership of the professional development process, the Coach-Client and Mentor Coach agree to interact as colleagues, partnering in a learning environment that best suits the Coach-Client’s specific needs. This allows for a non-hierarchical relationship that nurtures the Coach-Client’s unique expression as coach as well as their expertise and artistry, and aligns closely with the approach most coaches engage in when working with coaching clients.
Within this mutually-designed, intimate, and nurturing learning laboratory, the Mentor Coach can support expansion of the Coach-Client’s expertise through sharing his/her own knowledge and experience while simultaneously being of service without being in the way of the Coach-Client’s unique expression as coach.
At inviteCHANGE we advocate a coaching approach to mentor coaching, and believe that an essential key to an artful relationship is the Mentor Coach’s capacity for consistently being able to perceive the Coach-Client as a whole, capable, resourceful and creative human being and coach. It is true that as a Mentor Coach we have specialized knowledge or experience gained over time, our Coach-Client wasn’t born yesterday. Adult learners are much more open to receive when acknowledged for what he or she already knows before tackling what isn’t known yet.
The stakes are even higher when two peer practitioners engage as it always most vulnerable to expose oneself to critical reflection with another who shares the same context. This means the mentor coach must strengthen capacity to be with the emotional field of the coach-client in a respectful, intimate, safe and challenging way. This is an important arena for professional development to be effective as a mentor coach.
What can you do, say or ask that will elicit what your Coach-Client already knows and enable you to find out exactly what they believe they want from you? How can you honor your Coach-Client’s existing knowledge and engage together as colleagues? What attitudes or beliefs within you might get in the way of this level of equality? What attitudes or beliefs within your Coach-Client might get in the way of their ability to absorb new information?
A conversation between the mentor coach and the coach-client to discover the answers to these questions and others empowers the learning journey together. The initiation of the partnership forms a strong basis for trust and mutual respect and is a bedrock foundation necessary for the mentor coaching partnership to flourish and succeed.
Whether we take on the role of ‘mentor’ as part of our job description or because we choose to give back to others in some way, most of us step into the role with the idea that we have knowledge and/or experience that is valuable to provide to another person. Whatever our reason, oftentimes we make it up as we go and take sole responsibility not only for the content of what we pass along but also how we pass it along. To embark on a satisfying journey as a Mentor Coach, there are several things to consider.
As Mentor Coaches, the following elements of experience and training are keys to success in this capacity:
Other elements that support providing professionally and ethically responsible services as a Mentor Coach include items such as:
Just as each professional coach is unique in his or her application of the coaching competencies and skill set, so too are we as Mentor Coaches unique in our approach to mentor coaching. Once we’ve determined that our background includes the training and experience to be an effective Mentor Coach, the next points that are important to clarify include:
Being credentialed and experienced as a professional coach does not necessarily equate to being an effective Mentor Coach.
Following are what we believe to be the most common aspects in the backgrounds of those who are able to effectively engage as a Mentor Coach with a Coach-Client.
Coach training: a minimum of 200 coach-specific training hours encompassing beginning, intermediate and advanced courses from different coaching programs plus other aligned modalities such as EQ, voice dialogue, shadow work, appreciative inquiry, etc.
Exposure to this level and variety of training provides a wide array of tools, models and approaches that can contribute to the broadening and deepening of a Coach-Client’s self-awareness as well as inspiring practice to apply and experiment with enhanced techniques.
Breadth and depth of exposure helps to break through bias and attachment to one right way in favor of seeing the unique approaches of each coach-client that fully demonstrate the core coaching competency skills and behaviors.
Client experience: a minimum of 350-550 client hours delivered with ongoing coaching clients over a minimum of about 3-5 years.
This level of hands-on experience in partnering with coaching clients provides the Mentor Coach with experience of sufficient depth and breadth in client situations and personalities. Such experience provides a solid basis for being able to provide a ‘bird’s eye view’ of possible interpersonal dynamics present in submitted coaching sessions.
Typically, if a Mentor Coach has a background narrower than these two elements combined, he or she is potentially hard-pressed to provide a wide enough range of developmental feedback. To effectively further a coach-client’s development in the coaching core competencies as well as artistry in applying them requires an ability to notice sources of specific insight and guidance necessary for an expanded view of what is occurring for a coach-client and his or her client partnerships.
We also advocate for a specific set of guiding principles for all mentor coaches to abide. It’s usual that considering these principles cognitively, raises awareness and appreciation for choosing to deepen learning about the specific competency of mentor coaching in order to be effective on behalf of coach-clients. Investing time to explore these principles in terms of mindset and behaviors is the first step in preparation for confident competence as a mentor coach.
Janet Harvey, MCC ,CEO inviteCHANGE, has 30 years of executive and entrepreneurial experience with 12,000+ coaching hours, primarily in organizational and executive leadership engagements.