MBA Class Peers – A Potential Resource for MBA Students

MBA students often overlook their MBA classmates as potential resources for helping them develop professionally. Peer-to-peer activities such as coaching and mentoring may be an option for some MBA students while they are earning their MBA degree. With this in mind, I thought I would interview a professional coach to see if peer-to-peer coaching and mentoring is appropriate for MBA students, especially for those students whose MBA program lacks a coaching and mentoring component. The professional I selected is Kris Cavanaugh, owner of Shift. She is a speaker, author, coach, and currently enrolled in an MBA program. She graciously agreed to answer a few of my questions.

RGA-MyeEMBA. Let us start by identifying some of the differences between coaching and mentoring.

Kris. Individuals engaged in a coaching relationship usually experience fresh perspectives on challenges and missed opportunities they are facing either personally or professionally. Coaches actively listen, ask powerful questions, add objective observations, and provide support in developing a strategy that transforms one’s personal and professional world into whatever they want it to be.

Alternatively, a mentor relationship focuses on teaching by example. Mentors have achieved a level of success or obtained a lifestyle that others desire, and they have the experience and wisdom to help others move in a chosen direction.

The easiest way to explain the difference between coaching and mentoring is this: coaches ask lots of probing questions to help individuals figure out how to achieve their goals (pure coaching is grounded in the belief that the person being coached has all the answers within and the coach acts as a catalyst to help bring those answers to the surface). Mentors, on the other hand, typically share their life experiences and provide advice to help individuals achieve their goals.

RGA-MyeEMBA. Is it possible for MBA students to coach or mentor each other?

Kris. Yes, as long as the students involved understand the roles each are playing. They are either coaching (helping the student find his or her own answers) or mentoring (providing advice). The title “Coach” can be deceiving because unless you’ve been trained as a coach, you may not truly understand a coaching relationship. With that said, MBA students of all ages do have experience and a variety of skills and abilities they can bring to a coaching/mentoring session. Moreover, “teaming up” with another student during the MBA journey provides an opportunity for both students to understand quickly course material and to develop a deeper level of support from someone else that is going through a similar experience.

RGA-MyeEMBA. How would an MBA student recognize they might need a coach or mentor?

Kris. When MBA students find they are struggling on a regular basis with issues relating to the MBA as well as their personal and professional life, they may benefit from having a coach or mentor. Issues may include not meeting or rushing to complete school or work deadlines, missing too many family events, strained relationships with spouse/children, becoming isolated from friends due to work overload, or a general feeling of internal stress that they cannot quite eliminate.

A peer coach or mentor can help an MBA student take a “high level view” of what is going on in order to design systems and make decisions about how to handle the issues more effectively.

RGA-MyeEMBA. What criteria would an MBA student use to select another MBA student to act as a mentor or coach?

Kris. Choosing an MBA coach or mentor is a function of individual needs and trying to identify someone that can potentially help address those needs. Observe other MBA students during class, as team members, etc. and see if candidates surface. When they do, get to know them and then outline a specific request regarding some form of coaching or mentoring. Perhaps the relationship will evolve into one of mutual benefit during the MBA program.

RGA-MyeEMBA. Are there pluses and minuses for MBA students using classmates as coaches or mentors?

Kris. The biggest plus is MBA classmates are making the same journey so they can provide “real time” coaching/mentoring along the way. The biggest minus is that same MBA classmate’s focus is on the MBA program as well as their other work-life issues so they may not have the time to “be there” when needed. In addition, a good coaching/mentor relationship is built on a foundation of trust which may be difficult when MBA students are competing for class rank and jobs.

RGA-MyeEMBA. Thank you for sharing your insight with the MyeEMBA readers. Good luck with your MBA program.

Join the discussion by adding your comments below.

Image: Salvatore Vuono /

2 comments for “MBA Class Peers – A Potential Resource for MBA Students

  1. Jim Bennett
    August 30, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    As a former MBA student who graduated in 2007, I absolutely think one’s fellow students can be resources. Team members can provide real-time feedback, coaching and support. Making the effort to invest in those relationships pays dividends long after the program concludes.

    • August 31, 2011 at 5:57 am

      Jim – think you for your comment. I appreciate you pointing out the post program benefits of relationships that are established during the MBA program. Rodney

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