Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Mentor Coach as a Coach-Mentor!

We are pleased to share an article entitled “Mentor Coach as a Coach-Mentor!” written by Carolyn Hamilton-Kuby.


This article’s title highlights an invitation to bring your coach-self to the forefront when mentoring coach clients (mentees.)  

As mentor coaches, we bring knowledge of the International Coaching Federation (ICF) Core Competencies, and related minimum skills requirements, in alignment with the ICF’s Mentor Coach Duties and Competencies (which I refer to as the MCDC’s). 

While mentor coaching involves accessing our expertise and experience, by staying in coach mode while mentoring, we can bring the core competencies to life! Here are a few ways that gift can unfold:

Open with Openness 

Before the meeting, I take time to center and connect to my coach-self, as I do when preparing to coach. This creates openness as I enter the session with brief and light conversation, checking on how the mentee is, etc. The up-front opening of space for the mentee to share (versus me jumping into mentor coaching) maximizes rapport and depth of connection. This is one simple and basic – yet easily missed – way to bring cultivating of trust and safety to life as the mentor coaching launches.   

Facilitate Mentee Self-Mentoring

I start the mentor coaching in full coach mode – partnering in collaborative and appreciative dialogue – by asking two questions (which are re-worded from session to session): 

  1. What aspects of your coaching do you feel worked well?  
  2. What might you do differently, moving forward? 

The above approach allows the mentee full expression as well as leading of the conversation. It also facilitates self-mentoring as the questions evoke pondering in relation to where aspects of the competencies were demonstrated (or not.)

The first question is positioned before the second to facilitate identifying and/or connecting to strengths the mentee might leverage (before considering things to change, which is covered in Question b.) A more specific/follow up-question might be: “Which competencies did you find easy to bring to this coaching conversation?” 

It is important to note that instead of asking what didn’t work, Question b. is worded in a way that can facilitate client growth, with a focus on forward movement. Framing it as noted gives the question a totally different energy than asking specifically what didn’t work. 

As with the first question, if the mentee doesn’t specify competencies involved, there’s an opportunity to ask which ones they felt weren’t demonstrated. The opportunity then is to help them – through a coach approach – address how they might have brought those competencies to the surface, through skills, behaviours, etc. 

After hearing the mentee’s response to those questions, and before sharing my observations, I affirm their self-awareness, learning, etc. Not surprisingly, most times what the mentee shares completely aligns with the key observations/competency evidence that I’ve noted (a great reminder of client capacity and resourcefulness!)  

Offer Observations (versus giving feedback)

In “Your Brain at Work”, Dr. David Rock (Co-founder & CEO of NeuroLeadership Institute) speaks to feedback rarely creating positive change. He shares that when a person perceives feedback as being negative, it triggers the threat awareness, bringing rise to a defensive mode, and impacting parts of our brain (including those critical to executive functions and logical decision making as well as creativity.) In terms of constructive feedback, according to Dr. Rock, we respond positively to it only 1 out of 13 times.  

My takeaway: STOP GIVING FEEDBACK! We, as coaches, are perfectly versed in ways to avoid what Dr. Rock speaks of (as we are cultivators of trust and safety, creating a supportive and safe space for clients’ full expression, both in coaching and in mentor coaching.)

In bringing a coach approach to mentoring, I’ve drawn on Dr. Marshall Goldsmith’s “feedforward” concept, which flips feedback from a past to future focus.

My spin on the mentor coaching feedforward approach unfolds in several ways, each of which contain elements of being in coach mode.  

The approach includes a foundational aspect of shifting from giving feedback to offering observations and partnering with the mentee to enhance their learning and growth, flowing from their – and my – observations.

After the client shares their observations, mine are offered without judgement as I mindfully balance the observations offered by using a ‘3-layer’ approach: I start sharing strengths, then offer one or two growth edges, and end with acknowledgment of strengths. More strengths than growth areas are offered, in alignment with an appreciative focus. 

Observations bridge to demonstration of the competencies, which can bring them to life by making clear and simple links. For example, I might offer this observation: “your focus in maintaining presence showcased as you listened actively with depth of curiousity – and the result was seen in your customized questions, including when you asked: “if not now, when?” That powerful question clearly evoked awareness, as the client burst out crying with a smile and thanked you for asking it.” This example shows how a mentor coach can shine a light on the mentee’s integration and application of the competencies – how they brought them to life in the coaching session! 

In the spirit of true partnership, with a non-hierarchal approach and openness to mutual learning, the mentee will be asked how the observations offered speak to them — or not. For instance, after the above observation, I might add: “What’s surfacing for you as I share that observation?” 

Clients have consistently thanked me for the “feedback” given, sharing that it was  delivered with openness, acceptance, and care — resulting in empowerment. This is the  power of offering observations with a feedforward approach. 

By-Pass the Bias   

The first competency in the MCDC’s speaks to listening “beyond the content to discern application of the skills related to the core competencies (i.e. – skill versus direction, skill versus style or skill versus outcome for the client).” In my experience, as a mentor coach educator, new mentor coaches may not be sure how it applies.

If a mentor coach’s observations (and/or sharing of the observations) are based on their own sense of direction, style or outcome of the client, the likely culprit is bias of some type. 

As in coaching, mentor coaches must be aware of — and park — their lens, perceptions, preferences, filters, bias, etc., both when reviewing the coaching sessions and in offering observations when mentor coaching. 

When listening to a mentee’s coaching session:

– if I feel that I would have explored different aspects with the client being coached, then I’m bringing my thoughts on possible other directions the coaching could have gone;

– If I think that I would have held much more space, at certain times or overall, then I might be connecting to my style of coaching as a space-holder; 

– if I have any attachment to the client’s outcome then my thoughts are connected to my opinion(s) around that aspect. 

In any of the above scenarios, focus on application of the coach’s skills in relation to competencies could be missed. The invitation is for me to be self-aware when my own opinions, bias, etc. might surface. The opportunity created in those moments is for me to check-in to determine if my observations are objective and valid, and two questions can help in that discernment: Am I listening as a mentor coach in alignment with the core competencies, minimum skills requirements and MCDC’s or as a coach who might do something differently in that coaching session based on preferences? In mentor coaching, as I take a coach approach, I must park those preferences, including coaching style, etc. 

Role Modeling  

Bringing together all elements shared in this article results in organic role modeling, which can enhance the mentee’s learning experience around all competencies, particularly in relation to embodying a coach mind-set. As you’ve been reading, have you noticed where that competency, and others, were (or could be) brought to life in mentor coaching? 

There are many other ways to role model the competencies when mentor coaching including demonstration of ethical practice as we show respect, honesty, integrity, sensitivity, etc. and alignment with the MCDC’s. Establishing and maintaining agreements can be modeled in real-time through the mentor coach’s managing of time and focus, for instance. The possibilities are endless! 

The foundation of bringing a coach approach to mentoring is based on the mentor coach being aware of — and applying — links between the Core Competencies and the MCDC’s, with the related minimum skills requirements in mind. Those aspects are key in mentor coaching as a coach-mentor and bringing the core competencies to life!  

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