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To Mentor or Coach: That is the Question

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The best leader I ever worked for was a gentleman by the name of Aubrey Liddiard at Mid-West Paper and he has been my ‘role model’ over the past thirty some years. If ever I am not sure of what to do as a leader, I ask myself ‘What would Aubrey do?’

He definitely had high expectations and he was my biggest cheerleader when I got things right. He always approached a conversation by inviting my ideas first, believing I had a piece of the puzzle he was unaware of, that I knew something he didn’t. When I did make a mistake he would invite conversation to ensure I understood what had happened and then expect me to correct it. If I missed a deadline, the conversation always focused on my accountability to myself and the organization to meet commitments. He taught me how to manage expectations if there was even a hint of being late with an assignment. He was my mentor and my coach, sometimes telling me what to do if it was something new for me; other times asking questions, taking a coach approach, so that I came up with my own solution.

Today employees expect leaders to show up like ‘Aubrey’, to support others to be their best, to develop the next generation of leaders. Aubrey certainly still maintained control and achieved results, in fact he exceeded overall objectives year after year. However, he never did ‘command’ employees to deliver; he inspired, motivated and supported us to deliver to his expectations. He was a masterful coach and wise mentor who knew how/when to share his ideas and when to invite our input; his approach was to always start with a question first to understand what we already knew in any given situation.

So what is the difference between Mentoring and Coaching? Here is a quick definition you may find helpful:

MENTORING is a process in which more experienced individuals share their wisdom and experience with employees on a one-on-one basis. It typically addresses issues of culture, career growth, political savvy, specific skill development or professional networking.

COACHING is based on the premise that the ‘answers lie within’ the employee; it is focused on the solutions the employee can create, not the answers the mentor brings. A coach will use questions to invite his/her employee to tap into their own knowledge, experiences and wisdom to move forward. Through coaching the employee is able to formulate, develop and build out their own ideas, actions and concepts to help them with successful execution.

To Mentor or coach?

Always approach with a question or series of questions to see if your employee can solve their own dilemma or challenge – ASK FIRST. They may have insight into pieces of the puzzle that you are unaware of. Step in as their mentor only when you know the answers don’t lie within.

Still not sure about mentoring or coaching? I invite your call to explore your questions.