Mentor coaching.  What is that?  Have you even heard of it?  Like coaching, it is often misunderstood.

Mentor coaching is ‘observed coaching with feedback against a set of competencies, that sharpens the coach’s all-round presence’ (Norman, 2018).  You could call it a subset of supervision, as it focuses on the formative (Proctor, 2000), developmental aspect of our coaching.  What makes it different from supervision is that it shines a light directly on our blind spots (Eckstein, 1969).  We can’t hide behind a self-report as we might sub-consciously do in supervision.

Does that send a shiver of anxiety through you, to be observed by another coach who knows what great coaching looks like?  It can certainly feel quite exposing, to discuss how we might sharpen our coaching edge.

So why would we put ourselves through it?

Just like any skill, we lose our edge over time if we don’t continue to get feedback.  We start to take short-cuts.  We become a little bit lazy.  We forget some of the skills we learnt in the first place.  Not necessarily on purpose, but it happens.  We only need to think about driving and how often we get from A to B without really paying attention, not stopping fully at stop signs, not using our mirror in the way we were taught.

Yes, we can get feedback from our thinkers (Kline, 2002) and no doubt they have been listened to more exquisitely than they have ever been listened to in their life.  But they don’t necessarily know the difference between coaching that feels good and coaching that is transformational.

We can reflect on our own, but how do we see what we can’t see?  We can listen to recordings of our coaching, but how do we hear what we can’t hear?  Coaches are notoriously self-deceiving (Bachkirova 2015a).  For example, I worked with a very experienced coach recently and she had no idea that so many of her questions were closed questions.  Benchmarking ourselves using a set of competencies, with a reflective practitioner our side, will enable us to really look at our strengths and stretches.

And this is not something we can do once and tick it off the list.  This is a lifelong practice, to continue to sharpen our coaching edge.  Just as a knife gets blunt, so do we, and we need to keep sharpening it time and time again.  Coming back to conscious competence (Broadwell, 1969) again and again.

If this piques your interest, check out my soon-to-be-published book and place your pre-order: “Mentor Coaching: A Practical Guide”, published by Open University Press.

Source credits:

Bachkirova, T. (2015a) Self-deception in coaches: An issue of principles and a challenge
for supervision, Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 8 (1): 4–19.

Broadwell, M.M. (1969) Teaching for learning, The Gospel Guardian, 20 (41): 1–3.

Eckstein, R. (1969) Concerning the teaching and learning of psychoanalysis, Journal
of the American Psychoanalytic Association, 17 (2): 312–332.

Kline, N. (2002) Time to Think, London: Cassell.

Norman, C.E. (2018) Locked-in learning, Coaching at Work, 13 (6): 42–45.

Norman, C.E. (2020) Mentor Coaching: A Practical Guide, Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Proctor, B. (2000) Group Supervision: A Guide to Creative Practice, London: Sage

Executive Coach and Coach Supervisor Clare Norman is based in Southampton and also works in London and Bournemouth. Clare works with clients who want to make high impact transitions from one company to another, from one role to another, and when stepping up to more senior leadership levels.