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Recognizing the Difficult Dual Role Managers Play—Coach and Mentor

“All leaders do some coaching. If nothing else, they offer input through performance reviews. But providing feedback once a year just doesn’t cut it. Quarterly formal evaluations work better, but you’ll have greater success with even more frequent feedback, assessment, and mentoring.” — Laura Stack, “The 7 Keys to Great Coaching – and Boosting Employee Productivity;” 6/6/14;

We agree wholeheartedly, Ms. Stack! Frequent reviews, feedback, assessments and mentoring are all essential to good performance management and boosting employee productivity.

Interestingly, Stack offers ideas on both coaching and mentoring in her astute article but never directly addresses the difference between the two. So … what is the difference? Just Google the phrase “the difference between coaching and mentoring” and you’ll be treated to a dizzying spectrum of opinions, some varying widely and some only by degrees. Generally speaking, though, coaching is concerned with an individual’s performance while mentoring is focused more on a person’s development.

In today’s organizations, a variety of individuals may serve as coaches and mentors to an employee but these individuals typically play just one role—either coach or mentor. Only an employee’s direct manager is expected to play both roles, helping the employee to perform well (coaching) while also helping to nurture her/his development (mentoring). This is one of the demands that make being a good manager so challenging.

The difficulty of playing this dual role can become a little overwhelming at times. In an effort to provide adequate guidance and support, managers sometimes go too far and slip into micromanagement mode. It’s a “classic workplace dilemma that can be difficult to navigate,” as Marcus Erb writes in his recent Entrepreneur article, “How to Stop Micromanaging Your Team.” For managers facing this dilemma, Erb serves up five strategies to overcome it that are well worth considering.

When you think about it, micromanagement is the antithesis of good coaching and mentoring. What’s more, it doesn’t help anyone—not employees and certainly not the managers perpetrating it. Micromanagement actually erodes employees’ self-confidence, motivation and productivity. It also stifles innovation and creativity, two qualities that are proven to drive the success of high-performance organizations. In addition, micromanagement robs leaders of precious time and energy they could be spending on more strategic matters.

Yes, employees want to be managed, coached and mentored. Yes, they want clear direction at the outset of the projects and roles they take on. And yes, they also want a bit of guidance at ongoing intervals to help them stay on course and engaged in their work.

But providing this delicate mix of direction and supervision is no easy feat, not even for seasoned leaders. That’s why coaching and mentoring shouldn’t be reserved for employees alone. Given the difficult dual role managers play, they must be coached and mentored as much as anyone.