Does a manager coach or mentor?

Is a Manager a Coach or a Mentor?


Last time we described the scenario of a manager letting go and beginning to delegate to team members. It was a bumpy ride at first with him going straight from directing to delegating without any support.

So how does a manager know when to offer advice and when to coach? Let’s look at the definition of coaching and mentoring and what the difference is:

Coaching is a process of learning, not teaching. It is about raising a person’s awareness and letting them own the process. Here the coach is challenging the coachee’s model of the world to develop their thinking.

Whereas mentoring is the passing on of knowledge from a more experienced person. Think Yoda!

A good line manager will be flexible in their approach depending upon the person’s competence, confidence and motivation. Most line managers are pretty good at telling people what to do and giving them advice but how do they know when to be more of a coach?

If someone has not been trained it is unfair to delegate however if someone is almost ‘there’ a combination of mentoring and coaching can be used. Once someone is competent then a coaching approach is highly effective in developing the persons capability, for career development and organisational results.

Wendy Lukacs and I believe it is fundamental that a line manager learns to coach first so that they can experience the benefits first hand of being coached during their training, as well as being able to practice coaching a person who is not a direct report. Which is why we teach people how to coach on our leadership programmes.

Once the line manager has learned to coach they will be comfortable using it in one to ones and conversationally with their direct reports.

As Myles Downey said, “The magic occurs when people come up with their own solutions.”