Coaching vs Mentoring - a fight of giants.

Introduction

When it comes to management a lot of different styles can be used and most likely should be used to manage individuals. Each human being is different and when I started to manage people this was one of the first lessons I had to learn. If you utilize servant leadership, it is part of your job as a manager to adjust your leadership style in order to lead your team members to success.

When it comes to solution-driven conversations there are at least two ways to approach problems:

Mentoring

Mentoring to me means that you have a lot of experience with problems in the work space, maybe because you have been an individual contributor before, maybe because you have managed a lot of talented individuals and learned from both their problem solving skills as well as from the situations in general. I like to call it "the way of knowing".

Coaching

Taking a step back to actively listen, to force yourself not to "answer" or solve the problems but to ask "What would you do if you were in charge?", "What is the real problem for you here?" and the ultimate final boss question of coaching "And what else?" - This is coaching. Some might say "But listening is so passive, what am I supposed to do now?!", here me out: Active listening is the most active task you can do. You potentially need to simultaneously listen, classify issues, empathize, take (mental) notes, adjust your facial-expression consciously and more - all while "just listening".

Whats the difference?

There are situations where coaching is appropriate and situations in which mentoring will be the tool to use to reach the goal in the expected time frame. In the end what really matters is your understanding of management, the understanding that they both are tools in your quiver for you to use appropriately at the right time. The difference between the two techniques is that mentoring usually gets things done faster, while coaching is more of a long-term investment that is both demanding and encouraging for your coachee, hopefully.

How do I know which one to use and when?

You as any person will probably have a default mode, something that is easier, feels natural and what I learned from most of the managers I worked with in the past is that mentoring is the default mode for most of us.

There are situations that definitely warrant mentoring:

  • you need a solution fast because something/everything is on fire
  • you are in charge and need to steer the ship through the fog
  • your employees are currently in distress
  • you are unable to actively listen right now
  • your employee explicitly asks for your opinion / advice

Mentoring feels close to problem solving, something that most of us might have been rewarded for during the career progression. If you are anything like me, you will find it incredibly hard to get out of "problem-solving" mode and into coaching mode. Let's look at some advantages of coaching to set us up for the successful transition:

some advantages of coaching:

  • you enable your team, and teammates
  • at some point you might be "obsolete", which means you can have a new job title
  • you do not have to do all the thinking and guiding anymore
  • you can learn something new while you listen
  • you can see people grow and be grateful to be part of their journey
  • the coachee ideally does most of the work ;)

To sum things up, there are many different management styles and if, after reading this piece, you want to explore the world of leadership styles in greater depth, the brilliant Lara Hogan (@lara_hogan) wrote a piece on leadership styles resembled by colors. Two of the most prominent techniques used to interact with your employees are mentoring and coaching which can be used in different situations to enable and support you and your team mates. I would love to have your feedback, you can either leave a comment in the comment section or tweet at me @maikroservice

Recommended reading list:

  • Lara Hogan - Resilient Leadership
  • L. David Marquet - Leadership is Language
  • Brené Brown - dare to lead
  • Michael Bungay Stanier - The Coaching Habit

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