Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Question That Never Gets Asked

Over the many years of mentoring I can safely say that a good portion of my conversations are specifically about career advancement. A large subset of those conversations have to do with advancement into management. The question I invariably get asked in one form or another is "how do I become a manager?". The problem is that it's not the right question to ask. Certainly not at first.

The right question to ask, which I've rarely been asked, is "Should I become a manager?"

That is in fact the more important question.

I understand why this question doesn't get asked. In most companies the only path to career advancement is through management. There is no other path available so the question doesn't even come up. Unfortunately not everyone is cut out to lead people. And that's ok! Not everyone is cut out to be a brain surgeon or a teacher or an engineer or a fireman either.

When I'm being asked by a mentee about how to get into management my first response is a simple question back: "Why do you want to become a manager?"

Here are some of the answers I've received:

  • To get more responsibility
  • To earn more money
  • To get an office
  • To have a secretary
  • To get more visibility with upper management
  • To make people listen to me

None of these are the right reasons to get into management. In a mentee's response I need to hear some amount of energy and enthusiasm about working with people for me to think that this person is a candidate for management. Personally speaking I got into and stayed in management and leadership because I discovered during my career that while I love working in my industry the highlights of my day were the one on one meetings with team members. That is in fact a criteria I suggest to mentees seeking to become managers: are one-on-one meetings the highlight of their day?

Right now at companies all around the world individuals are promoted into management who don't have and are unlikely to attain that skill. If you've ever had a bad boss you know the havoc that person can wreak on a team and ultimately to the customer and to the business.

Mentoring is about helping people reach their full potential through self-awareness and self-realization. It's just as important to know what to step back from as it is to know what to move towards. By guiding certain people away from becoming managers we are helping them as well as future teams and companies.

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching

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A typical point of confusion I often come across is around the difference between mentoring and coaching. Indeed those terms are usually used interchangeably. There are many explanations already out there comparing the two activities but would like to share my perspective as well:

  1. The biggest difference is that coaching is usually targeted toward a specific skill. Just as in a sports you work with a coach to improve one area.  Mentoring's scope is much broader than that. With mentoring your aim is to improve someone's life and support their growth as a professional and as a person. You could consider coaching more tactical and mentoring more strategic.
  2. In other words, coaching is about skill development. Mentoring is about personal and career development.
  3. The time frame around coaching is shorter and dependent upon how long it takes for someone to improve a skill whereas mentoring can last years or even span decades because topics discussed are as broad as life itself.
  4. In mentoring the agenda is set by the mentee. The mentor generally has much more life and career experience than the mentee. With coaching the coach brings particular expertise and drives the discussions specifically to improve the targeted skill.
  5. Coaching can be done by a direct line manager in the hopes of improving an employee's aptitude whereas mentoring should be done by someone outside of the mentee's reporting structure. This will encourage a more open and confidential environment.
  6. Outside of the immediate manager's coaching role, coaching is done more often for pay by the coach as compared to mentoring which is done for free (or preferably in exchange for something a mentee could provide but not money).

While mentoring and coaching involve many of the same skills on the coach/mentor's part they are really two different activities with different focus, goals and time frames.