Lead, Mentor, Coach: What’s the Difference?


by Deborah Monroe
June 1, 2016

A management position or any leadership position can be a challenge to the point where the last hair on your head needs/wants to be pulled out.

Let’s face it; if you are in IT, you are really good at IT things! But then, there are these things called…people. What do we do with them?  Naturally, we do the best we can, but it is possible that we were asked to jump into the fire and just start managing employees.

So if I were to say to you that there is actually a difference between leading, mentoring, and coaching, you might look at me in a puzzled way. And then if I suggested that there are different times and reasons in which they should be used and that they are not regularly interchangeable, you might stare at me with a decided look between confusion and more confusion!

Let me share three stories with you to make the definition of each clearer so that you can identify those times in your own experience that will assist you in your own life and leadership. These are my own personal stories.  

I really did not have very healthy work experiences from the beginning of my career until the last corporate position I held. My managers ranged from incompetent scaredy-cats to eager-intense-destructive bullies. Then there was everyone in between who seemed unreasonable, insecure in his or her own right, mean spirited, over-controlling micro managers, super judgmental or…well, you get the gist. It seemed that I was in the pathway of every dysfunctional promoted person on the planet. I know that is a generalization, and yet that is how it felt when I went home crying regularly and would have rather chopped off a finger than go back to work on a Monday!

Lead

Then there was Charlene. I still wonder what enigma took place with her as my manager. It seems to be a mystery of the universe that one person could have so much impact on one life in such a short period of time. And instead of learning what NOT to do once again, I learned from her leadership style what to DO. I consider Charlene a leader.

Now we know that not every manager is a leader. We understand this. We also know that not every leader is a manager. Charlene happened to be a manger who was a leader, an extraordinary leader. She was not a mentor or a coach to me, but because of her leadership, she didn’t have to be.

I often do an extraordinary leader exercise in my HDI certification and training classes; where we identify the top three characteristics of a particular leader in our lives whose actions just blew us away. In my case, Charlene was fair to me, she empowered me, and she listened to me. Notice that her leadership skills that I identified are all about me and how she made me feel.

Leading (as opposed to managing) is not about you as the leader; it is about the person or people on your team and how they receive you and your guidance. Social science has proven over and over again that the carrot and the stick do not work as a leadership technique. It is the leader who can identify the intrinsic motivation of each of their staff and then engage that driving need.

Leading (as opposed to managing) is not about you as the leader.
Tweet: Leading (as opposed to managing) is not about you as the leader.�0;D;�0;A;@ThinkHDI #leadership

The carrot and stick methodology refers to offering extrinsic motivations or threats to your employees. It’s easy to understand why the threats are effective but do not lend themselves toward a collaborative work environment that is full of employee engagement and energy. People in that environment will be more than likely to be at work for the paycheck only. To be real, it is the lazy style of control (I won’t call it leadership). It takes but a moment to threaten someone with a word or a simple look to do their job and involves no effort at all from the manager but to sit back and watch others shrivel with fear.

So that we are clear, leading requires one to put aside their own desire to succeed and to put in place an agenda for the team’s success and the team members’ individual agendas. In this space, a leader succeeds because their team succeeds. leadership protectionIt means you provide clear vision, shared goals, and a cooperative working environment and that you step up and don’t take any nonsense from people who are creating interference with that objective to protect the team.

So how did Charlene find the intrinsic driver and need in me to turn my switch on? She spent time with me. She got to know me. We didn’t need to do endless assessment and personality tests. It’s not hard to read who I am. But it was difficult for many to manage those personality traits if they didn’t understand who I was at my core. Still to this day, Charlene is the only person who knows how to organize and focus me in the most productive way. Sometimes I call her just to straighten out my own organizational challenges, and she leads the way.

Mentor

I had to search long and hard to realize who was a mentor in my life. And knowing that hindsight is 20/20, life gets pretty clear after some time passes. It did when I identified Marvin as my mentor last year. It only took 36 years to realize that!

What does a middle aged black man have in common with a 20-year-old blonde white girl all those years ago? Not much…or so I thought!

I was a young college student in Boston just returning from living in Europe and the Middle East for more than five years. I didn't know too much about American history, and I certainly was not street smart about American life in general.

I needed a job, and one thing I knew I was good at was making people happy, bringing ease, and pouring a good stiff drink. I don't know how I first heard of the job opening for a bartender in Marvin’s club, but I remember meeting Marvin for the first time as he took this naive youngster and hired her on the spot to run his downstairs bar. My responsibilities included doorman, bouncer, bar tender, cocktail waitress, and, of course, dishwasher!

Dressed in skimpy "Genie" pontoon pants and purple metallic high-healed ankle boots, I started my weekend shifts (please don’t judge, it was the early 80s!). Marvin held my hand, graciously teaching and showing me simple things. He looked through the cash drawer one day, pulled out a $20 note, and took me aside. "Deborah, is this a $20 bill?" I nodded. Marvin looked disappointed. ”Look closer," he said. In the speed of doing business, I had missed the fact that someone had taken the edges of a $20 bill and taped them to a $1 bill. Sternly, Marvin eyed me, and, without a word, I had learned to pay attention. But I wanted to do it for Marvin and not disappoint him again.

Marvin would sometimes take me out to clubs and introduce me to his musician friends (including James Brown) and the music that opened my soul. He didn’t talk to me like an ignorant young girl; he shared his wisdom with me. He shared his life experience with me, and as a result, he opened me up. I realize now that he mentored me in the truest sense of the word. He told me what was important to him and how that would affect my life. He taught me through his own examples how the world worked in so many situations. I saw how one man could make a difference to a community, the world, and one person’s heart, namely mine.

What Marvin did was share himself, which was so very different than Charlene’s approach, who spent time finding out who I was and what drove me. I’m not saying that she didn’t share things about herself, but Marvin was (and still is) one of the only mentors in my life.

I am sad to say that I have not had a workplace mentor, albeit I am one. If I had had a mentor, so many things that I encountered would have been so much easier to tackle. I can’t for the life of me understand why not one of the bosses I had took the time to share themselves with me.

If there is one thing I can encourage you to do is share your experience with others so that they can understand how to be successful. And if you need a mentor, go out and get one at work; find a senior VP and simply ask them. It is not a big commitment, but the time you spend with them will exponentially reduce your painful-learning time! 

Coach

Coaching may not be what you think. Every time I look up coaching on the web or on YouTube, I see sports coaching references ad nauseam. That is not what coaching is in this spectrum.

Coaching is an art that starts with skill building. No one will be perfect at it until they dedicate themselves and see the importance of growing others.

At many times, I have had as many as four coaches for my own life: one as a life coach, one as a nutrition coach, another as a business coach, and another still as a “coaching coach”!  The one funny thing about a good coach is that they will never tell you what to do, nor will they offer advice or opinion. I know that seems counter intuitive, and you’re probably wondering, “Then how does a coach “coach?”

Andrea was one of my coaches. She is also one of my peers, whom I respect greatly. I happened to be in a very difficult situation one day after teaching a professional development class with a group that was very upset with their management.

Many of the students were outrageously negative and overtly verbose about their displeasure. Their attitudes affected me intensely, and I wanted so much to help them overcome their bitter anger. Instead, I found myself feeling attacked for simply trying to help them. They didn’t appreciate me being there; they didn’t want to hear what I had to say. I took it personally, and all night, my head was a mess as anger and upset disrupted sleep.

I knew I had to fix that before I went back to the company and that unhappy bunch. At 6:00 a.m., would Andrea be available for me to talk it through? She was.

A coach is one that understands one thing: The Answer Lies Within. I know that may sound a little new agey, so let me clarify. The Answer Lies Within means simply that the answer to the problem is within the coachee. What the coach does is simple in one sense and so very demanding in another. The coach must listen and listen deeply. In addition, a coach is required to hold their opinion and advice and skillfully ask questions to pull the answer(s) out of the coachee.

In that early morning meeting with Andrea, she asked me pointed questions.

  • “Why does it matter to you that this man in particular is so angered and upset?”
  • “Why do you think his words are directed at you and mean that you are incapable of changing the situation?”
  • “Why do you want to shut him down?”
  • “What would it be like if you aligned yourself with his emotion and asked him to explain why he is so angry and disenfranchised?”

With Andrea asking me a series of questions, I was set free from the mindset that I was in, which was hindering my ability to be effective. I was able to go back to that classroom with the angry people and have a discussion that actually meant something to them. But, I had to get over myself first, and a good coach helped me with that.

In your environment, coaching may be for corrective actions, for troubleshooting solutions to a particular project on the table. Whatever the intention, coaching has an end result and that is teaching another person how to think the way you do with your questions as a guide.

Lead, Mentor, or Coach

Between Charlene, Marvin, and Andrea and the stories that their character of care provided in my life, I hope that you can see these three roles being played out in your life, not only as the receiver, but also, as a giver. We need more people to take on these important roles.

  • Lead. Stand up, support, and grow your team. Give them something to focus on, and then support and cover them as they achieve your request.
  • Mentor. Share your life stories; your learned wisdom will greatly help others to succeed.
  • Coach. Develop your people by listening and becoming a Master Question Asker. Watch them learn from your style of inquiry and step into their own sense of mastery.

Are you up for it?


Deborah Monroe is one of eighteen Master EQ Practitioners in the world, through the Global EQ Community of 6 Seconds . She’s also an associate with the Institute for Organizational Performance and a member of the HDI Faculty . Working with all levels of executive leadership, management, and individual contributors, Deborah concentrates on integrating humans and process to create a balanced working environment. Her aim is to build understanding and empathy, creating a positive bottom line through employee and customer retention.


Tag(s): coaching, human resources, leadership, people

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