Seeing Mentoring and Coaching Through a Different Lens

To be an effective mentor and coach, you need to be good at building relationships.

This month’s issue focuses on coaching and mentoring. If you are lucky enough to have a mentor (which is often not the same person as a coach), the advantages are well known. A mentor can provide you with non-threatening constructive feedback and advice, connect you to important contacts, and help you develop professionally.

If you report to an effective leader, this person can be a coach who helps you develop and grow in your position. A coach can help you reach your full potential. If the leader is expected to coach their direct reports, then it is critically important to hold the coach accountable for doing so. Too many leaders think leadership is about them rather than developing others as leaders.

I know of one organization that uses a 360 Degree Feedback Tool to evaluate their leaders on how well they are developing others. Even when leaders accomplish all of their other goals, if they are not developing other leaders, their performance evaluation is negatively affected.

Capturing Knowledge

When you see mentoring and coaching through a different lens, there are benefits that are often hidden and significant—both to the organization and mentor/coach. According to Legal Jobs, roughly 10,000 Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) retire every day, and those numbers increased during COVID. Experts are calling this the “silver tsunami.” When people leave organizations, they take with them their experience and wisdom—knowledge that often is lost when they walk out the door.

One way to capture that knowledge is by having employees close to retirement paired with younger ones. The transfer of knowledge also can include job-shadowing so younger workers can learn the ropes of the industry, develop their skills, and find more job satisfaction.

For the mentor, the transfer of knowledge and wisdom is part of their leadership legacy. Mentors feel valued for their shared wisdom and life experience. There is a great deal of satisfaction in knowing you made a positive impact on someone else’s life.

Building Relationships

But leadership is not a position or title. It is a relationship. To be an effective mentor and coach, you need to be good at building relationships. People of all ages are seeking meaning and purpose, and legacy is about impact and influence. Minouche Shafik, who is now the president of Columbia University, said: “In the past, jobs were about muscles. Now they’re about brains, but in the future, they’ll be about the heart.”

In a recent article in The New York Times, Aneesh Raman and Maria Flynn state: “Today the knowledge economy is giving way to a relationship economy, in which people skills and social abilities are going to become even more core to success than ever before.”

The pandemic was a wake-up call for leaders as workers demanded that their workplace better integrate work and life. They want leaders who demonstrate compassion, understanding, and flexibility. I have written several “Leading Edge” columns emphasizing the need for strong interpersonal skills.

LinkedIn conducted a survey last year in which more than 70 percent of executives said “soft skills were more important to their organizations than highly technical artificial intelligence (AI) skills.” In another recent Jobs for the Future survey, “78 percent of the 10 top-employing occupations classified uniquely human skills and tasks as ‘important’ or ‘very important.’” Examples of these human skills are building interpersonal relationships, negotiating between individuals and teams, and motivating and inspiring teams.

A Winning Combination

Everyone wins when mentoring and coaching are successful. Mentees win because they learn, grow, and become stronger contributors. Organizations win because knowledge is not lost but shared. Mentors and coaches win because they feel appreciated for their experience. They feel valued knowing they had a positive influence on the growth of others. As said best by Athenian statesman Pericles, “What we leave behind is not engraved in stone monuments but woven into the lives of others.”

Jann E. Freed
Jann E. Freed, PhD, is an author, speaker, coach, and leadership development consultant. Her forthcoming book is “Breadcrumb Legacy: How Great Leaders Live a Life Worth Remembering” (Routledge Publishing, 2023). For more information, visit