Understanding the Mentor Coach Trend in Leadership Development

Oct 24, 2017

Reams are written on how a coach differs from a consultant, therapist, counselor or mentor. Within this spectrum of “asking to telling,” lines are blurred, especially between coaches and mentors.

There was a time when companies were satisfied with mentors with experience and expertise to help develop their leaders. In general, mentors helped in enhancing leadership skills but had insufficient skills to change attitudes and behavior.

With the organizational realization that emotional intelligence plays a critical role in leadership, companies looked around for those who could help make their executives emotionally intelligent and change mindsets and behavior – coaches. Coaches took over the task of shifting behaviors in individuals and organizations.

Over time, coaching became recognized as a developmental rather than remedial service. It became a trophy awarded to potential leaders rather than a stigma of a problem that was being remedied.

There is shift again. Companies have started to look for coaches who can also mentor. There is recognition that coaches need to have walked the executive leadership path, to “have been there and done that.”

Why the move from coach to mentor coach?

  • A trained coach can help change behavior. For instance, a coach can help transform an aggressive and perhaps even abrasive executive, to one who is collaborative and nurturing. However, without a systemic intervention across the organization and teams to effect a cultural change, the changed behavior does not last. Executives revert to past behavior. If their transformation is really anchored, the executive quits. Either way, the company loses.
  • Traditionally, most coaches come from a psychology or human resources background. About 80% of coaches I have trained are from this background. Very few have the general management experience or experience needed to address real life problems of executives.
  • Coaching has become an expensive intervention. Companies are looking for cost effective solutions in leadership development to address issues of skills and behavior, mentoring and coaching, for individuals and groups. They look for people who have walked their talk in changing organizational cultures, not armchair experts to explore and shift mindsets.

These trends have been evident for some time. Now, they have shifted organizational requirements for leadership development as it pertains to what sorts of coaches are sought after.

  • Companies are investing in developing internal coaches rather than hiring external ones. The trend is to train mentor managers to leader coaches.
  • Leadership development interventions are applied systemically rather than individually. Team coaching blended with individual coaching is becoming more accepted.
  • Training is becoming more facilitating, more akin to coaching than pushing knowledge down people’s throats. Combined with action learning, training is taking the form of  short sessions over long periods of time, to help anchor newly acquired knowledge.
  • Many visionary companies routinely shift line management and leadership development roles. The traditional human resources role has all but disappeared. Routine activities are automated. There is the concept of business partnership in leadership development.
  • There is a realization that overwhelming focus on people engagement (thanks to studies by Gallup and others) can result in a culture of harmony and nurturing as outlined in Blake & Moulton management style of Country Clubs, with everyone trying to get along famously with everyone else without direction and results. However, without alignment with performance objectives people engagement alone cannot sustain profitable growth of any organisation.

This is good news for executive leaders in companies with a passion for developing people – leaders who are engaged in people development, emotionally intelligent and have moved to a development perspective from an assessment and evaluative perspective. They become ideal candidates to be coach mentors in the evolving leadership development paradigm.

Ram Ramanathan, MCC
Ram Ramanathan, MCC


Ram is the Founder and a Principal at Coacharya. As the resident Master and mentor coach, Ram oversees and conducts all aspects of coaching and training services offered under the Coacharya banner.

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