A team is made up of individuals with a wide range of skill sets and personalities. Every individual is at a different stage in their careers and needs guidance around different aspects. Sometimes, it is as simple as “how to do x”. Other times it can be something like, “I am not sure what I want to do with my career”. Both these scenarios require a leader to be able to play a role of mentor or a coach as needed.
In a simple way, tell me who is a mentor?
A mentor is someone (typically from your own domain) who will guide you on how to do your work and do it efficiently. From experience they will be able to quickly identify your knowledge gaps and help you bridge them. They are focused to ensure that you have all that you need in terms of resources and help to excel at your work. A mentor takes pride in getting you off the ground and getting you running as quickly as possible. A mentor shows you how to do things and in the process shares productive ways to get better at what you do. They are usually available when you need to brainstorm over something specific directly related to your task. A mentor is available to help and guide when you are struggling with your specific tasks. Over time, the engagement from a mentor diminishes as soon as they realize that you have all what you need and are on the path to excellence. A mentor is always available for guidance when it comes to the specific domain but usually not more than that.
So then, who is a coach?
A coach is someone who is there to guide you holistically. They may not be someone from your own domain but can guide you in the right direction. They do so by asking the right questions. The skill of asking right questions is something a coach develops over years of experience. While they may not know the nitty gritty details of the actual task you perform, they, by asking the right thought provoking questions and following it up by listening with intent, are able to learn about your strengths and weaknesses. They pose follow up questions to make you think in the right direction often leading you to think from first principles. Great coaches are someone who makes you tap into ideas and strategies that you thought you never had. Coaches are there to give you overall direction. A great coach helps you discover your own solutions.
Picture a boat and you are the operator. A mentor will teach you how to operate it, whereas a coach will show where to go.
Both mentors and coaches are important to the team to ensure that they have all the support when they need it. A great leader/manager is able to perform both these roles efficiently.
As a good leader you may have to wear the hat of a mentor when you want to unblock someone in your team that is stuck on a specific task. Here, you as a leader would need to possess the necessary skills of the domain to be able to unblock the situation.
Other times, when your team members need guidance and want to discuss things that may shape their professional future and career, you will need to wear the hat of a coach and listen with intent. You will need to pose questions to unearth more of what they are thinking and help guide them with their objectives. You will need to assist them gain clarity and help with any experiences you might have had that align with the situation they might be in.
To be a great leader, try to master the skill of the specific as well as the generic. This will ensure that you will be there when your team needs you, no matter what the situation.
While this may be the most simplistic view of mentoring and coaching, I hope I have been able to give you a glimpse of what both are and why they are important. I hope you found this post useful. I would love to hear your thoughts.
The Manager’s Prism is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Once again all your blogs are amazing