Considering a coach or mentor? Four things you need to know

Coaching session

Why bother with a coach/mentor?

In 2006, I reached a crossroads in my veterinary career. I was progressing well in small animal practice but was disillusioned and feeling lost. I had no work-life balance and was carrying major debt from my student years. I’d started down the specialising route but realised it wasn’t for me, and I wasn’t enjoying general practice.

I didn’t want to leave my beloved profession that I’d chosen at the age of five, and yet it kept pushing me to burnout. My self-belief was in tatters as I couldn’t understand why my dream career wasn’t making me happy.

Thanks to life coaching initially, and then several brilliant mentors and coaches over the next few years, I rediscovered myself and plotted a new course through the profession that was much more in alignment with who I am. This included clinical and non-clinical roles until I found the right niche.

Right now, in the current pandemic and as we progress through and into the creation of the post-pandemic profession and our ‘new normal', there will be for many, I feel, a similar sense that perhaps a rethink or re-evaluation is needed.

Coaching and mentoring are both very powerful as they are ways of fast-tracking your growth, evolution and development – especially if you are feeling lost, stuck, demotivated or indecisive. 

They’re also about working towards realising your full potential, as often we need someone to stretch us and call us out lovingly on our blind spots or areas of resistance. There’s a reason why all top sportspeople and every super-successful person has a coach or mentor. 

How do coaching and mentoring differ?

There is actually quite a lot of overlap between coaching and mentoring. Both intend to bridge the gap between where a person is currently and where they would like to be and to help the person to make significant changes.

So what are the main differences?

Length of relationship and structure

Coaching relationships are often centred around a specific goal or sticking point the client wants to work on, and are often shorter term – maybe three to six months. Coaching is usually a paid-for service. Mentoring tends to be a more informal and open-ended arrangement that can continue for longer, and assumes that the mentor has relevant skills and experience in the profession the mentee is looking to work on so often a mentor will be someone older or more experienced in your field.

Approach and techniques used

In coaching, a coach does not necessarily need to be an expert in your profession or area you are looking to work on (although I think with coaching veterinary professionals, it helps). This is because the premise of coaching is that you already have all the answers within you, so a coach uses skilful questioning only to help you reach those answers and no advice is given. This can be highly transformational.

Mentors, on the other hand, will often give advice and share their own experience, and you can also tap into their network of connections. They will also use good questions and empathic listening and there should be no obligation to follow their advice if it doesn’t feel right for you. Mentoring tends to be more directive with specific suggestions and guidance.

Both approaches have benefits and are not mutually exclusive – I use a mix of both in my own coaching practice.

Who can I use?

Outside the profession there are a million and one coaches and mentors in every different area from life coaching to performance, sports, business and career coaching. Knowing where to start when trying to chose someone can be overwhelming!

Within the veterinary profession however, there are several very good coaches with proven track records and a quick Google of ‘veterinary coach’ will bring up some sites to check out.

The Vets: Stay, Go, Diversify! (VSGD) Facebook group is also a good hunting ground for veterinary coach profiles or recommendations, and it offers a free mentorship scheme as well where you can search for a mentor from within the VSGD community.

How do I choose a coach or mentor?

First be really clear on why you want to use a coach or mentor, as this will help you select the best fit for your needs. If it’s an informal mentoring relationship, have an open conversation at the start to agree mutual expectations and a time to review how things are going in a few weeks or months. You may need to try two or three people to get the best fit.

If you’re choosing a coach, speak to two or three different ones, get on their email lists and see whose style, content and website you resonate most with.

Check their qualifications or their career journey, why they got into coaching and their testimonials so you can see if their areas of expertise match your needs.

'Speak to two or three different coaches, get on their email lists and see whose style, content and website you resonate most with'

Personal recommendation is always reassuring so ask around your peers and colleagues or on veterinary social media forums for suggestions. Most coaches offer a free initial consultation, which is a must before hiring any coach so you can see how you get on and if you like their approach.

I cannot recommend coaching and mentoring highly enough. If you find the right person and engage with the process, it can quite literally change your life!

Jenny Guyat runs Vet Harmony and has been coaching veterinary professionals for more than 10 years. 

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