Feature: Hold my hands


Have you ever wondered why there appears to be so much talk about mentoring and coaching for both professional and personal growth? I was inclined to write this piece because of the increasing awareness of several professionals to align with either a mentor or a coach.

I find that it is common a trait in successful people to use the words mentor and coach interchangeably whenever they speak publicly or write. The question is: who is a mentor and who is a coach?

It is widely said that the concept of mentoring dates back over 3000 years with the character Mentor in Homer’s Odyssey, an Ancient Greek epic poem. In that narrative, Odysseus entrusts his young son Telemachus into the care of Mentor, his trusted companion, when he goes to fight in the Trojan War. Unexpectedly, he is away for decades, and during that time Mentor nurtures and supports the boy. (https://www.open.edu/)

From another source, the first use of the term ‘coach’, in connection with an instructor or trainer, arose around 1830 in Oxford University as slang for a tutor who ‘carried’ a student through an exam. The word ‘coaching’ thus identified a process used to transport people from where they are to where they want to be. (https://www.open.edu/)

The reality, however, is that no matter how experienced we are, we grow and learn by fostering personalised relationships with those who are ahead of us. We can never stop learning by ourselves or through others, as there is no end to learning. As admonished by Eric Hoffer: “In a world of change, the learners shall inherit the earth, while the learned shall find themselves perfectly suited for a world that no longer exists”. I must also add that if you want to be a winner, you must want more out of life. Seeking support from those who are ahead of us and have done what we wish to and keep wishing we will – and care to see us grow too – is what we all require at a certain stage in our lives.

Now, who is what?

Simply put, a mentor shares experiences, knowledge, and wisdom with a mentee to build on skills and meet certain goals. As a result, a mentor mostly is a senior person to the mentee both in career and professional life. As a mentor, you must build skill in caring, be a dependable person, and commit to the course of the mentoring journey. As observed, the mentor has a lot of responsibilities toward the mentee, albeit non-financially rewarding. Mentoring ‘drains’ the time of the mentor as it is a transformational relationship with the mentee. Therefore, the mentee must commit to the process of mentoring by engaging positively, to a large extent.

A mentor or coach nurtures you and empowers you to see a possible future and believe in yourself – capacity and capability. And here’s my personal take. As a mentor, you must have been mentored before; and as a coach, you must have been coached before. But there’s more.

Let us look at the other leg – coaching. Coaches offer skills-based and specific life and professional transformation interventions to their coachees. In effect, coaches spend a shorter time with their clients or coachees, so to describe it. A coach enforces discipline in a more structured approach. In most cases, it is a paid-for service as coaches bring their expertise to bear on an immediate change required in an individual. Coaches will invariably teach you how to do something. For example, a coach can mount the stage with you to teach or show you how to maintain eye-contact with your audience during public speaking.

Some Must-Know Differences

We must note that coaching is part of mentoring but a mentor is not a coach. Unlike a mentor, a coach is in charge of the journey, defines the timelines, and works strictly according to a schedule that is usually signed-off by both the coach and coachee. To improve on eye-contact, a mentor may encourage you to improve your listening skills first by locking your eyes with the speaker. Compare this with the example above, of the coach who jumps onto the stage straight away with you. Therefore, it could take a longer time to achieve certain skill results with a mentor than it would have in coaching.

Depending on the speed with which you require some transformations, a coach may be the more appropriate support. When you spend time with a coach, you will appreciate the point I am making here. I say this confidently because I have engaged the services of coaches in certain areas of my development. Coaches offer specific skills tied to specific goals within a short time.

Let us remember that a mentor supports a mentee to take personal responsibility for working toward a broader goal (say public speaking) over a sustained period (say 12 months). A coach, however, takes control and helps you achieve a single goal; for instance, how to establish eye-contact with your audience in a shorter time (say within two months). Whereas a mentor provides general, non-judgemental feedback and support, a coach provides specific feedback on a single skill. It is easier to develop a more personal relationship with a mentor because of the long-term nature of the relationship than with a coach who may just spend a month or even a week with you.

In coaching, the coach owns the journey, determines the pace, and pushes the coachee to achieve a specific result. In mentoring, the journey must be owned by the mentee. The mentoring journey’s success depends more on the availability and determination of the mentee. Remember, a mentor only guides but does not enforce discipline. A coach will finally leave you with recommendations for future development; however, it is the mentee’s responsibility to determine the future growth and not the mentor’s. Thus, before you make that decision to align with a mentor or coach, go through a self-assessment test and be certain of what you need at the time.


‘Apt’ is how best to describe Maya Angelou’s advice: “People will forget what you said, People will forget what you give, but People will not forget how you made them feel”. For the rest of your life, your mentees will keep making references to you for impacting their lives. This is the point about making time to reach out and help others grow. As Bob Nardeli also believes; “Unless people are coached, they do not reach their maximum potential” – a truth for scaling-up in our personal and professional growth. Both mentors and coaches also have a much bigger advantage in learning from their mentees and coachees. Also, as eloquently said by Phil Collins: “In learning, you will teach; and in teaching, you will learn”. I ask: “We all need hand-holding; who is holding your hands and whose hands are you holding?”


Dr. Suzy Aku Puplampu is the CEO of OctaneDC Limited – a Fund Management and Investment Advisory firm located at East-Legon, Accra. Suzy was recently appointed as a Facilitator for the Ghana Investments and Securities Institute (GISI and serves as a mentor on the Ashesi University’s mentoring programme. She also mentors several mentees in Toastmasters and within her social circles. Suzy loves to write on finance and other social issues, and blogs at https://suzydotblog.wordpress.com/

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