Mentoring and Coaching: One-on-One Personal Development 

While training in all its various forms continues to be the delivery system of  choice for most person-centered Organization Development (OD) work, a rapidly  growing number of individuals and organizations are turning to one-on-one  approaches to save time and money—and to achieve maximum depth of insight and  transformation. One-on-one developmental relationships have had a long history,  dating back to Biblical times, as when Moses turned to his father-in-law, Jethro, for  help (See Exodus 18: 13-27). Although we don’t know exactly what happened in this  one-on-one encounter, here is a possible up-dated scenario of this Biblical  conversation:

‘I can’t handle it any more!’ Moses says to his trusted father-in-law.  ‘What’s the problem?’ Jethro asks.  

Says Moses, ‘I’ve just got too many people coming to me for decisions and  advice. All day long . . . It’s all I do now. It’s driving me crazy! What can I  do?’ 

Jethro replies, ‘Well . . . How about this? What if you set up some of your best  decision-makers to be responsible for a hundred people, and a few of your  very best to be responsible for a thousand people . . . that way, some handle  all the little stuff, others handle the not-so-little stuff, leaving you to take care  of the really big stuff . . ‘ 

‘Hey!’ says Moses. ‘I like that!’ and he did what the two of them had created  together.

There is a lot about mentoring and coaching embedded in this hypothetical  exchange.

• Moses is hard working—you might say even driven—and is experiencing  some strong dissonance between his idea of how this wilderness trip was  supposed to go and what was actually happening. 

• Jethro is older, more experienced, knows his way around, and is  someone Moses respects. They had sufficient bandwidth for this conversation.

• Apparently Jethro had confronted a situation like this before—or at least  Moses believed Jethro had the emotional distance and clarity to see a  new solution.  

• Trapped inside his old paradigm—the one that came out of his promise  to Yahweh about getting everyone to the Promised Land all by himself— Moses couldn’t see his way to a solution for his current distress. 

• Moses asked for help. The feedback and coaching were requested. This  opened Moses’ heart and mind to receive Jethro’s idea.  

• Jethro first affirmed what would not change in the situation. He is rooted  in reality, not in pie-in-the-sky positive thinking. ‘Yes, Moses, these  people are going to keep coming to you—or someone—for a long time.’  

• Jethro then suggests something for Moses’ consideration. He doesn’t try  to force or sell his idea. It is a suggestion, not a command. When a good  coach or mentor offers an idea, they do not use positional power with  their client (if they have any), but rather rely on the power of the idea  itself. 

• Moses acted on his father-in-law’s coaching. He set up the organization  suggested by Jethro and saw it through.  


The word ‘mentor’ comes from the Greek name of the man, Mentor, in whose  care Odysseus left his son, Telemachus, while on his 10-year return voyage from the  Trojan War, as told by Homer in the epic The Odyssey. In Odysseus’ absence, Mentor  not only helped the boy become a competent young man but also saved his life. This  relationship, in which an older or more experienced person assists a younger or less  experienced individual in their development, is a model for what we now known as  mentoring. Mentoring has become a wide-spread means of providing personal  development in OD. 

Today’s organizations now realize that mentoring programs are quite effective  for addressing such issues as diversity, developing current and future leaders,  retaining high performers, and reducing the time and financial cost of training/  learning. Levinson, Darrow, Klein, Levinson, and McKee (1978) were instrumental in  defining the mentoring process. Their concept of a mentor includes such roles as:

1. Teacher

2. Sponsor  

3. Counselor  

4. Host  

5. Guide  

6. Exemplar  

7. Developer of skills and intellect, and  8. Supporter

Mentoring integrates characteristics of parent-child and peer-support  relationships. According to Levinson et al. (1978), young people who do not have  mentors during their formative years are disadvantaged in terms of their  psychological and career development. Young people often search for and discover  appropriate mentors on their own, but enlightened organizational leaders are paying  more attention to mentoring and making it an official part of the leadership and  management developmental process. Young managers with high potential are often the first to be given mentoring experiences. Generally, a young manager is assigned  to a mentor who is senior in position and age and who sometimes occupies a position  that is several hierarchical levels above that of the protégé. Mentors are not  necessarily selected from their protégés’ departments but are selected for their  interest, availability, and mentoring competence. This would include the image of  their competence and empathy among colleagues, and their ability to provide  appropriate emotional support. One mentor should not have more than five  protégés, say Levinson et al. Research supports the perceived value of a good mentoring program: The  American Society for Training and Development reported that 75% of executives  surveyed cited mentoring as being one of the key factors in their business success.  Business Finance Magazine reported that 77% of companies credited mentoring with  increased employee retention and performance.

What a World-Class Mentoring Program Looks Like 

In the typical mentoring program, a relatively new manager or employee is invited to take on the role of protégé and seek out someone in the organization they admire who is more experienced and could be their mentor. Mentors help their protégés navigate the organization’s culture, including its political, operational, technical, and even interpersonal dimensions. They also listen to their protégés’ personal and job concerns, help them search for solutions to on-the-job problems, share their own experiences, respond to their protégés’ emotional needs, without creating inappropriate dependency, and cultivate long-lasting, informal personal relationships. Here is a short list of what mentors do with and for their protégés:

1. Increase the protégé’s personal and interpersonal effectiveness by providing feedback about their behavior on the job and assistance in analyzing their interpersonal competence; 

2. Review the protégé’s progress in achieving work objectives, especially project management; 

3. Identify problems in and around the protégé that are hindering their progress; 

4. Assist in generating alternatives and a final action plan for dealing with identified problems; 

5. Model the best behavioral norms

6. Champion the protégé for special projects, paving the way for their advancement; 

7. Assist the protégé in setting goals for continual improvement; 8. Protect the protégé from the unseen consequences of potentially threatening political turmoil; 9. Provide support to the protégé while they implement action plans; 10. Do whatever they can to help the protégé realize his or her potential.

Generally speaking, the mentor focuses on the protégé’s career and movement up and through the organization. In the best mentor-protégé relationships, however, personal development becomes the emphasis, as the mentor offers feedback not only in the above-the-waterline aspects of career and job performance, but also below the waterline, to address functional and even adaptive skill areas as well. This requires a mentor who is trained in coaching, and, again, a relationship with sufficient bandwidth to support the deeper work.

The Risks of Going Deep in Mentoring 

Ironically, the deeper the personal development goes in a mentoring relationship, the more risky it becomes. Above-the-waterline conversations are safer

for both parties. Neither really wants the protégé to reveal too much that might shake the mentor’s confidence in them. This results in a certain limitation on the relationship, usually unconsciously, which restricts what can and cannot be discussed. If the protégé reveals too many vulnerabilities—crucial to development at the adaptive level, for instance, where the deepest learning takes place—it might affect the mentor’s support and sponsorship. The typical mentor, who must also think about their own reputation in the organization, wants to be seen as backing winners. These factors, which are at work in many mentoring relationships, tend to invite the need for something deeper, freer, where the protégé can let it go, confident that nothing they share will come back to haunt them later. This deeper work, necessary for any professional at various points in their career, is what coaching is all about. This also explains why below-the-waterline coaching is best provided by someone who is not in the protégé system.


‘Coaching is an ongoing professional relationship that helps people produce extraordinary results in their lives, careers, businesses, or organizations’ ( In the words of long-time workplace coach Curtis Watkins, ‘Simply put, coaching is a relationship designed to assist the client in bringing out the best they have in them and applying it in their life’. Through the process of coaching, clients deepen their learning, improve their performance, and enhance their quality of life. In each meeting or phone call–many clients and coaches never meet each other face to face—the client determines the focus of conversation while the coach listens and contributes observations and questions. This kind of interaction leads to greater clarity and moves the client into action. Coaching is intended to accelerate the client’s progress by providing greater focus, awareness, and increased options. Coaching concentrates on where the clients are now and what they are willing to do to get where they want to be in the future.

There are two basic paths to personal development coaching, corresponding to the two Medieval spiritual development methods: the via negativa (the negative road) and the via positiva (the positive road). Both work. The via negativa is what would be called gap analysis today. The client is assisted in looking deeply at where they are now, where they want to be at some point, what is standing in their way, and what steps would get them where they want to be. The via positiva view looks at where things are working already, and how the client can enhance or build on that existing capacity. The via negativa view focuses on what is missing or not working; the via positiva view uses on what is present when the person or situation is at its best. Both approaches work—and work equally well. Johnson (1996) would say that what we have here is a polarity to be managed, not a good thing to be supported (the positive approach) and a bad thing to be invalidated (the gap-analysis approach). There are times when a masterful coach will want to have access to both. We start with the via negativa, since it has been around the OD consulting field the longest and is still the path most intuitively taken. Lewin’s Force-Field Analysis showed that, if you pushed on Driving Forces in a change project, what usually happens is that the Restraining Forces simply increased to match our pressure. Lewin asserted that we will get more movement ultimately by reducing (or reversing) a Restraining Force, something most of us have experienced first hand. This success in change efforts has led OD people to focus on the Restraining Force side of the equation, analyzing and addressing what is going against the change. What follows is a gap-analysis coaching process that has been used to coach individuals in a variety of organizational settings (Scherer, 1986).

STRIPES: A Breakthrough Coaching and Mentoring Process

These seven coaching dimensions, using the acronym STRIPES, can be addressed in order during a coaching session. Even better, a consultant could simply listen to their client, taking notes in the appropriate area, noticing which areas are receiving the most attention. Eventually, they will see which dimensions need to be explored further to promote the client’s breakthrough. The following describe these dimensions:

S What is SO? What is the situation now? (In as much vivid detail as possible.) 

T What is the TARGET or TRANSFORMATION? What will things be like when they are perfect? (Again in vivid detail.) 

R What are the REASONS you are not there now? What RESOURCES are present, supporting your intended breakthrough? (This is basically a Force Field of the situation.)
What are the RATIONALIZATIONS that are keeping things stuck?

I What are the major ISSUES that you know will have to be addressed?
(What have been the ‘dead horses on the table’ that have been difficult to admit or discuss?) 

P What POLARITIES are present and not being managed well?
(Where are you positional about something, holding it as an either/ or when it might be a both/ and? What are the potential benefits of the position you have been resisting or avoiding?) 

(How will you recognize that movement is taking place? What will be the first signs?) S What is a FIRST STEP you could take which, itself, would be a small breakthrough? (When will you take that step?)

Coaching as Appreciative Inquiry

For the via positiva, we use Appreciative Inquiry, a relatively recent addition to our OD technology, as an example. AI, as it is known, is based on a philosophy and practice that engage the client in an inquiry about what is working. (See Mentoring and Coaching.docChapter 10 for more on AI.) These are a few of its basic operating principles: An AI coach works in ways that are a sharp contrast to the traditional problem-solving or expert model of coaching. Some guiding principles of AI are: 

Words create worlds: For example, the word ‘issue’ is replaced with a more neutral or even affirmative label, ‘topic.’ What is focused on becomes reality. Reality is created in the moment an experience is ‘named’ in the act of perceiving it—and there are multiple realities, brought into existence by the language used to describe what is happening. 

Inquiry creates change: The very first question begins the change process, and influences the client in one way or another. AI questions are open, invite rapport—not report, and provide space for the person to swim around in a topic they may not have thought about before.

Life provides an endless opportunity for learning: Once someone enters the AI process, everything that happens to them can become ‘grist for the mill’ of learning. 

Image inspires action: Developing a strong, visceral image of a passionately-desired future helps the person to want to start living it.

The more positive the coach’s questions, the greater the willingness to take action, and the longer lasting the change: The most powerful questions call forth and affirm the positive core of the person, e.g. ‘What do you value most about what you are able to contribute when you are at tour best?’ 

Wholeness brings out the best in people: People make the most progress when what they are doing integrates all aspects of their lives, body, mind and spirit. 

The past is a powerful source of wisdom and energy for the future: People are more ready to journey into the future (the unknown) when they carry forward the best parts of the past (the known). 

Choosing liberates personal power: Personal development, AI style, is all about choice. The client chooses what to focus on, their image of the future, and their options for getting there.

The Appreciative Inquiry process is very simple and moves the client from the past to the future in a powerful way. The general steps, in sequence, are:

1. Discover—The client is invited to take an in-depth look back at what has worked in the past and forward to hopes and wishes for the future. Prior to this step, the client is helped to be very specific about the situation they want to see changed. For example: 

AI Coach: ‘You say you want to do a good job leading this layoff and you are scared. OK. Imagine that the layoff is over. What are one or two specific outcomes of the layoff that would make you proud and amazed?’ 

AI Client/Leader: ‘Every employee who had to leave left feeling 

respected and ready for the unknown, and those who survived are ready and excited about moving ahead with the company.’

2. Dream—Building on the best of the past, the client translates their greatest hopes and wishes for the future into a statement. Written in the present, as though the future is actually happening, the statement needs to stretch and challenge, be exciting and something the person really wants. ‘If everything in this situation were perfect, what would be happening?’ 

3. Define—Working together, the client and the consultant pinpoint exactly where the focus of the intervention will be, targeting specific behaviors that will need to shift. 

4. Design—This is the HOW. The client is asked to help design the interventions for making that future happen. What will be done? Who are key people who must be involved? Long-time AI consultant and coach Barbara Sloane guides her individual clients to interview key stakeholders themselves, using the AI questions, to find out how they are perceived from those who know them best. ‘Based on what you have experienced from me recently, when I am at my best, what am I doing and/or not doing?’ With these data in hand, the client then selects the topics to focus on and decides where to begin. 5. Deliver—The client is coached to get started, to go out and actually do what was just designed, putting energy into those key relationships and improvising as necessary, as the desired future becomes the present.

The Cutting Edge of Executive Coaching: Deep Empowerment for Personal Transformation.

Coaching as traditionally practiced is a relatively straightforward process. Using either the Gap Analysis or the Appreciative Inquiry approach, the coach meets with their client—either on the phone or in person—and gets them involved in moving from where they are to where they want to be. This may happen in a single session, or, as is most often the case, over a period of time and several sessions. 

There is a potential tragedy, however, in traditional coaching. Given the open mind and heart of a client asking for coaching, and the potential for transformation, a great deal of coaching ‘leaves money on the table,’ meaning that the client could have been assisted in going much further. As the old adage goes, ‘A guide cannot take the student where the guide has not been.’ Traditional problem-solving and even much of what passes for personal development is more like papering over an old wall, adding to what is already there in the participant. Occasionally this is enough. Usually it is not. For instance, if a consultant were to coach a dictator who comes for help to better communicate, they may have simply helped make the dictator more effective at leaving the same trail of victims. They may have missed an opportunity to help the dictator confront their reality and choose another way of living and leadership. 

Or take a highly-effective and much-loved manager who is starting to collapse mentally and emotionally under the weight of their tendency to over commit. As their coach, a consultant could get them to delegate their more burdensome tasks to lighten their load. But, like acne on the teenager who reduces the pimples (the symptom) with a powerful cream, only to have them pop up somewhere else, the client will be back in the same state again until they identify the root cause of their inability to say ‘no’ and open themselves to a new way of being. What they are doing—by saying yes all the time—is exhibiting behavior driven by some aspect of their being. The coaching challenge is how to help the client work their way back up the causal chain to what will transform their fear of saying ‘no.’ This will require the consultant and client to go deeper. 

Traditional training gives people new skills or increases an existing skill. It improves what is there by adding skills or capabilities to those a person already has, which is not necessarily a negative thing. In fact, training is something every human being should be involved in all the time. The goal is incremental improvement through skill development. 

Deep, empowering, transformational education and development goes a huge step further. Education comes from the Latin verb educere, which means to draw out, or to bring out something latent. When someone is involved in educating or developing a client, they are not adding to what is there, rather they are calling forth something that is already there, from a deeper level—drawing out something the client may not even have known was there. Thus, the client is assisted in becoming more of who they already are. 

These two first levels of coaching can be looked at as helping someone who is learning how to drive a car. Training is learning how to go faster in first gear. Transformational education and development is like shifting into second gear. It changes the learning experience considerably. A person can do a lot more things in second gear than they can in first. Transformation through coaching can lead to personal development at an altogether different level, leading the driver to consider questions like, ‘Where am I trying to go?’ and ‘Why am I still in this car?’


First, doing person-centered work inside an OD intervention, requires being aware of and managing a polarity. It is essential for the OD consultant to understand that it is impossible to do an intervention aimed at the system without also impacting every individual very personally. In the same way, when carrying out an individual intervention, such as coaching, the consultant must realize that their intervention will, even a small way, impact the system—and trigger the system’s self-protecting ‘immune system.’ 

Second, each person-centered intervention has strengths and weaknesses. For instance training individuals can produce major change in a participant but, if it goes as deep as it is capable of going, the person may find re-entry to be very difficult. Mentoring is the easiest to introduce and requires the least ‘bandwidth,’ but it is also limited as to how deep it can go because of the authority-laden relationship between the mentor and the mentee. Coaching, at least the kind that develops someone ‘below the waterline’ in their adaptive skill areas, requires a very mature, centered, non-positional, well-trusted consultant. 

Third, the OD consultant of the future needs to have all three personal development ‘arrows in the quiver’ –training, coaching and mentoring—and be eager to explore theories and models from outside traditional OD. We must allow ourselves to work with less tangible—but no less real—dimensions of human existence. Perhaps we are where Physics was in 1905. Could we be operating with what is akin to Newtonian principles, which ‘work’ at most levels, while resisting what would be akin to Quantum principles? In OD, especially in the world of personal development, we are simply not able to sufficiently explain what happens inside and between people using our traditional models. The system-oriented OD principles of our founders, which were revolutionary at the time, will need to be accompanied by new, yet-to-be-discovered principles, based not on cause and effect, but on more subtle forces and principles that involve the unpredictable and indomitable human spirit. The next generation of person-centered OD practitioners must emulate the pioneering spirit of our founders, and do what they did: go beyond what is taken for granted. When they do, they will be standing on the shoulders of smiling and appreciative giants.

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