Alison Haill, Oxford-based expert and trainer in coaching skills for managers, mentors and consultants, shares her thoughts.

There are a lot of business mentors around. They have valuable experience, tips and expertise to share with small businesses and at the moment often carry a government grant as part of their toolkit. As the founder of a small business in Oxfordshire myself, I’ve benefitted greatly from working with different mentors over the 15 years that my company Oxford Professional Consulting has been in business.

However, there is a difference in their methods. The most valuable mentors, it seems to me, are those who have taken on board the skills of a coach rather than acting like a consultant. Using the skills of a coach, they manage to interweave their consultant’s expertise to get great results. This avoids the dependence that consultants encourage in their clients and allows the client company to stay in charge, while ensuring that a constant flow of expertise and advice is available on demand.

I was on the receiving end of the consultant style of mentoring the other day. After listening to my current challenges, my mentor showered me with ideas of what I could do to overcome them. The trouble was that I ended up with another big challenge:  how to live up to her expectation that I should follow this flood of advice.

Luckily I told her my frustration and she was able to switch from mentor to coach. She asked me what I wanted; she asked me questions which allowed me the time to think and come up with my own solutions; as a result I felt I was back in charge, powerful, in the driving seat.

Ten years ago coaching skills were something you could learn on a course but mentoring was supposed to be something you didn’t need to learn. It meant giving people advice from your own experience, probably about a job you used to do.

Nowadays mentoring is a skill. The Institute of Management has designed 2 extremely effective and practical certificated courses:

• Certificate in Mentoring Level 3

• Certificate in Coaching and Mentoring Level 5

The outcome of completing these courses is that you give advice using a much more effective process, while building responsibility, confidence and independence in the client at the same time.

At Oxford Professional Consulting we run both these courses and the first step for both is our 2-day Introduction to Coaching Skills course.

Contact Alison for details of her 2-day courses starting in January 2015. Allison can be reached through Heart of business at admin@heart-of-business.co.uk or directly on Alison.haill@opcoxford.com mentioning this blog.  You can also call her on 01865 436791.