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When to Mentor, When to Coach?

written byMarilyn Atkinsonon 22/11/2012

Inside each of us are strong prejudices; young versus old, black versus white, fat versus thin, tall versus short, my team versus yours. These prejudices are largely unconscious. We say we don’t have them and yet study after study shows that they prevail in making key choices (such as who to hire, who to date, who to buy from, and who to give preference to in a promotion).

These prejudices are deep, they are unconscious, and they are habitual. An example might be the interesting discovery of an American Black leader, Jesse Jackson.  He observed that walking down a dark street alone and hearing footsteps directly behind him, he immediately becomes self-protective, fearing robbery. He said that, turning, he would feel relieved if the person was white and not black. He castigated himself for this.  

Using logical levels, we can notice that such a type of ‘self-protection belief system’ becomes part of our “survival basics” at an early age; providing seemingly useful ad hoc survival beliefs for the growing child. These beliefs then become part of our backdrop of assumptions, like water for the fish and air for the bird. Building a “wider assessment base,” a base of valid principles for effective living, takes attention and can powerfully add wisdom to our choices. This is often a key area of self-reflection during coaching. We add self-mentorship to our own basic principles. We learn to build stronger choice-making!  

There are a few areas where we can learn to build the necessary distinctions to move ourselves beyond the power of these “ad hoc prejudices.” The main one is the arena of distinction-making. We can build these higher logical level distinctions and we can practice them, and they work. In this way, we can learn to mentor ourselves with basic principles. These are the key areas for self-mentorship and self-guidance.  

What are the areas where we can build principles? The most powerful and useful of these areas are the “choice builders”; specific capacities which open up and develop our skill with coach position.  

First we need to train these key distinctions until we make them automatic. We need to test ourselves with them through time. Finally, they become part of the “back drop” of our mind, our unconscious signal system about what is worth paying attention to.  

Someone once asked me: “Why are the Milton Principles part of learning coach position? These principles are about a preference, and coach position is neutral.”  

“They are needed,” I replied, “because we can only stay neutral if we stay open. If I start with the assumption that you are okay, you have resources, and that you are doing your best then I stay open to you. I stay curious, and thereby, remain committed and engaged with you as you explore.”  

What I am saying is that self-mentorship is an invaluable aid in learning principles. If we do it in the arena of building openness, we can build fundamental principles both for active choice-making and for effective coaching.  

Einstein said: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” If you only have a hammer, you tend to treat the world like a nail.  

I would like to point out four such higher logical level scaling areas where we can look beyond the level, so to speak, and in this way ‘self-mentor.’ This means a scale from one to ten for each area, where we measure our awareness with real honesty, like Jesse Jackson did.  

With these we can learn to build effective distinctions and move from blind prejudices. I call these areas the basic “wrench set,” in our toolkit for distinction-making in developing key principles for living.

See the four-quadrant chart below:  


Each of these areas, when studied with our own criteria, provide us key “eyes to look through” when we are scaling our distinction-making from one to ten.

We can test a choice by asking: “What would this proposition give me as I use it to create future choices? Does it lead to more openness, balance, flexibility, and/or love?” What level does it sit at on my scale and which direction does it move me along the scale? Does it build more distinctions in any of these areas? Also, if any of these four areas are not available.

Are there possibly better propositions for making effective choices that build distinctions in this key area?  

We might compare these to traffic lights. A red assumption, like a red traffic light, stops us. We are making an assumption about another person or group that lowers our awareness on the distinction building scale and is thereby more limiting of our future openness, love, flexibility, and balance. A green light assumption, on the other hand, enhances us to move up the distinctions that increase our ability to act with openness, love, flexibility, and balance.  

For example: What assumption would I make about my employees if I assume they are aiming towards: the highest level of openness, the highest level of balance, the highest level of flexibility, and the highest level of love in making their choices?  

Now you have a toolkit for self-mentoring which hugely assists your own ability to maintain coach position, to coach and to mentor others.