Are You a Leader, Manager, Coach, or Mentor?

leadership work May 26, 2020

Are you a leader, manager, coach, or mentor? 

It’s really a trick question, because each of us probably has occasion to play all four of these roles from time to time.  However, we can only play one of them at a time and deciding which of the four is most appropriate for the situation can be challenging.  How do you know which is best for any given moment?

To answer this question, we must first examine the core elements of each function.



I like to say the primary function of leadership is to create motivation through uncertainty.  Leadership is about communicating a vision of the future.  A vision of a better way and a better place. 

Although this vision is inspiring, it also creates a degree of uncertainty, because we do not yet know how to achieve that vision.  We don’t know how to get there.  We have direction (via destination) but we do not have directions.  

In terms of results, leadership is primarily focused on long-term results and the results are our results.  Leadership is about the collective results, not about any one individual’s results. 



In many ways, the primary function of management is to remove uncertainty and to provide certainty.  This is done primarily through structure and methodology.  Management provides direction through compliance. 

Management is largely about showing the way to get from where we are right now to the place we need to go.  Usually, this is the same place described in the leader’s vision. 

Although management has long-term implications, the management function is primarily oriented towards short-term results.  In terms of the agenda, management is working toward a collective agenda.  Management, like leadership, is about our results. 



Coaching is quite a bit different from both leadership and management in that it is often a personal endeavor.  Coaching is about developing capabilities, skills, and capacities, often at the individual level.  Coaching is about growth and development

Whereas management is about showing the way, coaching is about showing their way.  Coaching is about showing the coachee how their way of thinking and doing is limiting their progress.  Coaching is about offering a new way of thinking and doing that will better move the coachee toward their goal. 

Although coaching often has short-term goals, ultimately, coaching is about achieving long-term results in the form of new capabilities.  Whereas leadership and management are focused on achieving collective results, coaching is very much about your results.  The coachee sets the agenda. 



I tend to think of mentoring as similar to coaching, but with less formality and less structure.  Whereas a coaching agenda is very targeted toward developing specific skills or capabilities, mentoring tends to take on a more fluid, or situational structure, based on whatever is happening “right now.” 

In terms of the way, mentoring is quite a bit different from coaching.  Coaching is about showing the coachee their way, whereas mentoring is more about my way as the mentor.  A mentor might tell their mentee, “this is how I did it or this is how I would do it.”  This allows the mentee to learn from the mentor’s past experience. 

Similar to coaching, the mentoring agenda is personal and it represents the agenda of the person being mentored.  Because there is less formality and structure, one could argue that mentoring is probably more focused on short-term results, though clearly there are long-term implications for mentoring as well. 


The Challenge

Because each of these energies, or functions, are mutually exclusive, the challenge is to figure out which one is necessary in any given moment.  Furthermore, we need to have skills and competence across all four of these functions. 

Some of the things you should keep in mind include:

  • What are your personal strengths and preferences? Do you have a particular function that you favor?  If so, are you overusing that energy at the expense of the others?
  • What kind of results are you seeking? Remember that leadership and coaching tend to be more about long-term results, whereas management and mentoring are usually more suitable for short-term results. 
  • Who’s agenda are you trying to serve? Remember that leadership and management are mostly about “our” agenda whereas coaching and mentoring are about “your” agenda. 

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