Big Red Car here.
A lot of folks read my blog post yesterday on Mentoring — Head Fake or Worthy Endeavor.
I received a few questions — Hey, Big Red Car, what is the difference between coaching and mentoring?
So here goes.
Coaching focuses on improving specific discrete skills under the umbrella of a traditional management-employee relationship. Bosses coach their subordinates. It is a necessary part of the line manager’s skill set and it happens within the boundaries of a work relationship. Good managers coach all of their subordinates.
Inexperienced managers are often at a loss to understand how to coach their subordinates but as they grow into their new jobs, they learn this skill themselves. Maybe they get a bit of coaching from their boss?
It is skill specific and is intended to improve the performance of of an employee on some specific skill.
Imagine a football coach on the field with his quarterback explaining the difference between throwing a slant v a wheel route. The slant is thrown directly to the receiver — well, to where he will be when the ball arrives.
While on the wheel route, the quarterback simply throws down field and lets the receiver run under it and make the play. On the wheel route, the coach says to the quarterback: “Just air it out. Throw it down field and let the receiver make the play. You can do it.”
The coach is coaxing a superior performance — or at least an improved performance — from his employee by working on a specific skill one on one.
The coach initiates the coaching effort and the effort is focused on the employee’s current job responsibilities.
When coaching, the coach is often able to get real world feedback from the next iteration of the application of that skill.
Mentoring attempts to develop talent beyond the short-term constraints of a specific job description. The mentor is typically not the manager of the mentee — hate those words, so jargonish, ugh!
The canvas upon which the mentoring relationship is drawn is much larger than a specific skill or task, it all about developing the person — the mentee — both inside the workplace and outside.
While coaching focuses on a task, mentoring entails the building of a relationship. Look at the blog post noted above and see that this mentoring relationship lasted for 7-8 years and the results supported the length of that relationship. The transformation was dramatic.
In a very selfish manner, the mentoring program is intended to produce an employee who is ready for greater responsibilities and high command. I have previously spoken of my admiration for President Dwight David Eisenhower and many know of his having served under both General MacArthur and General Marshall. Great preparation for high future command indeed.
What is not known as widely is his service under Major General Fox Conner in Panama. General Conner is often referred to as “the man who made Eisenhower”. General Conner was known as one of the brightest minds in the Army of his day. He had served as General Pershing’s Chief of Staff during World War I.
Mentoring is focused on the mentee’s career while coaching is focused on specific skills.
Wisdom of the Campfire
I have often heard the Boss use the term “Wisdom of the Campfire” to discuss the manner in which organizations — the Army, companies, Boards — pass along lessons learned from the history of that organization. In some ways, coaching and mentoring are like having a seat at a similar type of campfire.
Imagine a wise group of leaders and managers gathered on a bitter cold night around the campfire rubbing their hands for warmth and spinning their tales.
Be at that campfire and learn. Learn. Teach.
Advice to the employee
So perhaps you are reading this and saying to yourself — “OK, Big Red Car, great for managers and CEOs but what the Hell can I do about this as an employee?”
Well, dear employee, those managers and CEOs used to be employees once upon a time.
Reach out and request coaching and mentoring. The folks to whom you reach out will be flattered and you will handpick your coach and mentor.
Remember, you are responsible for managing your own career.
But, hey, what the Hell do I know? I’m just a Big Red Car.