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Professional Development: Leaders as Coaches and Mentors

man in blue shirt leading a meeting

Hopefully, most of us can point to someone in our lives who had a significant impact on us. Perhaps they are a coach, manager, family friend, relative, or teacher. That person was likely a mentor to you in some way. Today, we’re going to discuss these types of relationships in the business setting, specifically how leaders are coaches and mentors.

Many c-suiters, upper management, and supervisors in the business setting must lead a team to reach organizational and departmental goals for the overall benefit of the business. Instead of a traditional management style, workplace leaders are opting for a coaching or mentoring style. While the terms are often used interchangeably, we think they’re two different ideas.

We’re going to cover the differences between coaching and mentoring and exactly how leaders can use each method to help employees grow.

Coaching vs. Mentoring… What’s the difference?

The terms coaching and mentoring are often used synonymously. But really, they’re quite different. We think this distinction is helpful as the terms each capture a unique aspect of leadership.

Simply put, mentoring encapsulates a highly relational approach to leadership. It often looks more casual than its counterpart because mentors don’t focus on improving particular skills—they emphasize the person’s overall development.

Coaching is often based more on performance. That’s not to say there isn’t a relational dynamic but coaching usually has more specific goals to develop specific skills or behaviors.

It certainly would be possible to have someone to both coach and mentor. It may be that you’ve had someone both coach and mentor you at the same time! The lines often blur, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. But again, we find the delineation of the two a helpful method to explore how they each operate in the workplace.

Leaders as Mentors

Did you know that 71% of Fortune 500 companies have mentoring programs? Read: successful companies understand the importance of mentoring. And 97% of those mentees say that mentorships are valuable.

Because mentorships are relational, they’re usually based on sharing experiences. Often, the mentor is the one sharing their experiences and wisdom with the mentee. The mentor acts as a guiding hand and confidant for the mentee. And mentors walk with their mentees exactly where they are in life and work. Of course they strive for growth, but mentors help their mentees feel known by walking alongside them.

Having a mentor can be hugely beneficial to anyone, particularly young professionals who want to advance in their careers. In fact, one study showed that over a five-year period, 25% of workers who enrolled in a mentorship program were likely to get a salary increase, compared to only 5% of those who didn’t enroll. Plus, mentees are promoted five times more often than people without mentors.

Workers are also more likely to be connected to their jobs when they have a mentor. A study performed by Gallup found that 44% of workers who had regular meetings with their manager said they felt engaged in their work compared to only 20% who didn’t have regular meetings with their manager. It’s safe to say that mentorship is key to having a well-rounded and engaging workplace experience.

Leaders as Coaches

We’re seeing a growing shift to looking at leadership in the business context largely through the coaching lens. This reflects and compliments the “team” mentality and language that many organizations have adopted.

While mentorship is based more on the mentor sharing their experiences, coaches focus on improving the skills and behaviors of the person they’re coaching. You could say it’s action based.

Like in a sports team, a coach (i.e., manager or supervisor) focuses on improving specific skills. For example, an offensive line coach in football would work on skills like footwork, using your hands, reading the field, or executing specific plays. Unlike the mentor, the offensive line coach’s job is to ensure the offensive line has the necessary skills to help their team score and ultimately win.

Due to this action-based approach, coaching frequently aligns with the hierarchical structure found in most organizations. Higher-level managers and supervisors are responsible for developing the skills of those under them to reach the team’s goals. Manger-coaches will help workers grow their individual skills and then fit the skills of the individuals together to the benefit of the team.

Coaches must be visionary. Great coaches, whether in the office or on the football field, look for potential in their team members and seek to cultivate that potential. Can you imagine if a great football coach like Bill Belichick wasn’t visionary? Where would the Patriots be without Belichick’s ability to put together all the pieces of the game with skilled players who work well together? Tom Brady is a great quarterback, but it’s likely he couldn’t have won six of his seven Superbowl rings with the Patriots without the leadership of Belichick.

Coaching is a particularly great method to help young professionals grow in their careers. YP’s are new to the field and often need assistance developing skills to succeed in their industries. Great coaches will recognize their innate talents and can help them grow into true industry movers and shakers.

The Big Picture

Utilizing mentoring and coaching is a fundamental way to grow the skills and development overall of a workforce. And young professionals really want opportunities to grow. Workplace leaders should adopt models of mentorship and coaching as a true investment in human capital, especially for YPs.

When workplace leader coach and mentor employees, they are more engaged and efficient in their jobs. Both types of leadership are necessary for a worker to have a successful and delightful work experience. The external wisdom received from a mentor can help a worker stay on track to develop the skills and behaviors necessary to be successful in the long run.



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