Are You Acting As a Mentor or a Coach in Your Organization?

As a basketball fan, I’ve been thinking during this off-season about how coaching accounts for much of a team’s performance level. As I thought about it more I came to the realization that coaching is actually a subset of mentoring and that when short-term performance is what you need to drive, a manager needs to think and act like a coach. The players’ talent is obviously very important, but good coaches exploit that talent. It’s the same in any sport — and in business.

 Managers who act as coaches to their teams have higher performing, more effective players. In particular, good coaches make sure team members learn about all key functional positions in the organization, which better prepares them to perform in their own roles and helps develop an energized team of high performers.

Many assume coaching and mentoring are the same thing. They are not. A mentor uses a variety of approaches to develop an individual over time. Coaching might be one of those. A mentorship refers to a personal developmental relationship in which a more experienced or more knowledgeable person helps a less experienced or less knowledgeable person.

The person in recipient role of mentorship may be referred to as a protégé (male), a protégée (female), an apprentice or, in recent years, a mentee.

"Mentoring" is a process that always involves communication and is relationship based, but its precise definition is elusive. One definition of the many that have been proposed, is:

"Mentoring is a process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and the psycho-social support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development. Mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and a person who is perceived to have less (the protégé)".

Mentoring is generally perceived to be primarily in the interest of the receiver rather than the giver or the organization.

"Coaching is about maximizing performance to successfully master current challenges. Individuals’ and the team’s performance on projects, assignments, and tasks are evaluated to make sure the right people are in the right positions and that they perform to their best ability." Where expectations are not met, feedback ideally takes the form of constructive criticism. The purpose should not be to assign blame, but to gain knowledge from experience. Changes might be considered that require reassigning individuals or duties.

Coaches who maintain daily hands-on involvement and interaction with team members have a greater influence on their short-term results. An effective coaching strategy is not about sharing strategic vision, but about working collaboratively to strengthen members’ skill sets.

I used a coaching approach extensively when we were installing Toyota's Policy Management system (Hoshin Kanri). We created a team that traveled to install the system. After each installation, we discussed what we did well and made adjustments to improve the implementation process, whether it was about approach or personnel. While the experience may have had a significant long-term development effect on team members, our focus was clearly on the short-term successful completion of the installations.

The benefits of coaching are obvious: increased productivity, efficiency, and employee development. Realize, though, that it does not yield the same results for everyone.

Successful coaches are committed to a disciplined approach, developing their teams by taking a proactive and trusted leadership position and setting clear expectations of performance. They provide participative review and constructive feedback in a timely fashion, while supporting and encouraging change. In short, successful coaches lead the ordinary in achieving the extraordinary.

Are you acting as a coach in your organization? If so, how has it affected performance? Please share any of your experiences in the comment section below.


Quoteable Quotes:


"I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable."
_John Russell, Managing Director, Harley-Davidson Europe Ltd.

"We have done lots of research over the past three years, and we have found that leaders who have the best coaching skills have better business results."

_Tanya Clemens, V.P. of Global Executive & Organizational Development at IBM


"A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work a drudgery, a leader makes it interesting. A boss is interested in him or herself, a leader is interested in [others] the group."

_Russell H. Ewing

Mentoring is a brain to pick, an ear to listen, and a push in the right direction.

_John C. Crosby