By Clare Norman
Mentor Coaching is for Life, not just Credentialing

Mentor Coaching is for Life, not just Credentialing

An extract from Mentor Coaching: A Practical guide, by Clare Norman, published with the kind permission of Open University Press.

Mentor coaching and supervision are different from each other though. 

I define mentor coaching as ‘observed coaching with feedback against a set of competencies, that sharpens the coach’s all-round presence’ (Norman, 2018).

Mentor coaching focuses on skill building. Being at our sharpest. It involves being observed as we coach and then reflecting with a mentor coach (and other coaches if we are in a group) on the competencies that we displayed and those that we could draw on more to enable our thinker to think (and feel and sense and embody).

Supervision focuses on keeping us and our thinkers safe, from an ethical standpoint and in terms of our own resourcefulness. It is self-reported, so it relies on us to report what happened in our coaching. Sometimes, we are blind (Eckstein, 1969) to our own competencies, which is why mentor coaching is so useful to fill that gap.

Mentor coaching keeps us sharp.

Supervision keeps us safe and sane.

Both are for the benefit of our thinkers (Kline, 2002).

Here’s what we know about how people learn:

  • Hard is good. If learning is effortful and demands emotional investment plus some failure followed by feedback, then the learning is more likely to stick (Brown et al., 2014).
  • Practice is good, especially when it is the right amount, spaced over time and requires retrieval from previous practice attempts and feedback (Brown et al., 2014).
  • Learning must be active and focused; sitting back and listening to an expert leads to a low rate of behaviour change compared with trying out targeted behaviours with feedback (Brown et al., 2014).
  • Learning must be relevant to the learner and dependent on their own stage of learning and growth. ‘Sheep dipping’ people though training, where everyone gets the same training no matter their stage of development, does not tend to work, because it doesn’t meet the individual where they are; but individualised development, focused on the exact needs of the individual, leads to greater change (Brown et al., 2014).
  • Competence is one of the three basic needs of all human beings (alongside autonomy and relatedness). We want to know that our skills are valued and that we can grow further (Ryan and Deci, 2000).
  • ‘In order to learn, we need to encounter new data in the context of a secure relationship’ (Thornton, 2016).

I notice from my own practical experience that mentor coaching and supervision, in combination, are the most individually tailored and therefore the most high-impact continuous professional development opportunities for coaches. They are hard, they are active, they are relevant to the coach, and mentor coaching also involves practice and a striving for competence. They are personalised to our needs. They get to the heart of the matter, without any irrelevant information because they are all about us as an individual, and our own growth, supported by a reflective practitioner.

For these reasons, I recommend that both mentor coaching and supervision be endorsed, even mandated by the professional coaching bodies as part of coaches’ continuous professional development.

At present however, mentor coaching is only mandated by the International Coach Federation, for the purposes of credentialing.  It is so much more than a tick-box exercise though.  Mentor coaching enables us to show up as a much better coach, as we become aware of our blind spots, deaf spots and dumb spots (Eckstein, 1969) and make changes to the way we partner with our thinkers. 

Mentor coaching is about regularly bringing ourselves back to conscious competence:

  • Never forgetting that there is always more to learn about the practice of coaching.
  • Never getting so arrogant that we believe we have nothing left to learn.
  • Never getting stuck in unconscious competence or indeed slipping into unconscious incompetence.

Given that context about the power of developing and revisiting competencies to enhance how we show up in the room, I’d like us, as a profession, across coaching bodies, to take a good hard look at the continuous professional development that we expect coaches to actively participate in. With guidance, coaches can make conscious choices about how we invest our precious developmental time and money. The better the choices, the more likely we are to learn and grow to improve our coaching for and with our thinkers.

If this article has peaked your interest and you want to find out more about mentor coaching, you can pre-order Mentor Coaching: A Practical guide now.


Brown, P.C., Roediger, H.L., III and McDaniel, M.A. (2014) Make it Stick: The Science of Successful Learning, Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

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.

Ryan, R.M. and Deci, E.L. (2000) Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being, American Psychologist, 55 (1): 68–78.

Thornton, C. (2016) Group and Team Coaching (Essential Coaching Skills and Knowledge), Abingdon: Routledge.

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Clare Norman

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