In Coaching vs. Mentoring, Dr. Muyibat Adelani makes several important distinctions between coaching and mentoring. She notes “mentors are typically admired by the mentee. The personal aspects of mentoring relationships can make it difficult to pursue other interests or go in a direction other than what has been recommended.” Dr. Adelani is acknowledging the power differential inherent in the mentor/mentee relationship. This power differential is an obstacle to developing trusting relationships.
From Apprenticeship to Mentoring
Medicine started as an apprenticeship model with the “master craftsman” (there were no master craftswomen in the recognized guilds) having absolute control over the apprentice. Few remember the “pyramid” system in surgical training when multiple interns competed for fewer surgery residency positions. Before the residency match, there were no guaranteed residency positions. The surgery training programs had absolute power over surgical training and careers.
Historically marginalized groups will often seek role models who reflect their own identity in order to “follow their path.” Mentors may assume that mentees want to follow their career path for the same reason(s). Understanding a mentor’s purpose in life and definition of success can be as important, if not more important, than a mentor’s gender identity, sexual orientation, or race.
While we have progressed to a mentor model, we have an overabundance of white male mentors that have advanced the careers of many physicians and surgeons. However, this mentorship model has served to propagate the “old boys’ network” that impedes diversity, particularly in the surgical specialties. How can the mentoring model be disrupted?
From Mentoring to Coaching
In contrast to mentoring, coaching is based on confidentiality and non-judgment. Coaching is a relationship of equals. This environment of trust allows the coachee to explore their purpose in life, definition of success, and life/work balance without their unique voice “offending” their coach. Coaching is all about the coachee; coachees explore their dreams. As with many changes in business, medicine has been a late adopter of coaching. As more doctors get exposed to successful coaching, they may seek coaches instead of mentors. Fortunately, well-trained, non-judgmental coaches can coach everyone.
Lao Tzu said, “at the center of your being you have the answer; you know who you are and you know what you want.” Your greatest power is your purpose and drive. Coaching can help you listen to your inner voice!
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