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

In the world today, everyone is someone – at a minimum, you are your own boss. I don’t mean in the sense of owning your business; I mean in the sense of how you manage yourself. Whether you like it or not, you are responsible for your own actions. You’re accountable for the decisions you make. How well are you managing yourself? Seth Godin recently wrote a post that suggested the odds are that you’re doing it poorly.

Here’s a summary of the fundamental differences between the roles of coach, mentor, leader and manager:

Coach A person who trains (athletes), tutors (students) or instructs (performers).
Mentor A wise and trusted counselor or teacher. An influential senior sponsor or supporter.
Leader A guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement or political group.
Manager A person who has control or direction of an institution, business, organization. A person who controls and manipulates resources & expenses.

The differences in practice can be subtle:

Managers are individuals assigned to a specific role with defined scope, typically paid to fill that role, and responsible for the day-to-day operations and expenditures of that organization. Not all managers are effective leaders. Ideally, managers are accountable for the decisions they make.

A leader in an organization can be identified as the person that everyone tends to follow. This may not be an organizational (assigned) leader. A friend of mine worked for a local school district. She told me about a teacher that all of the other teachers’ turned to during difficult discussions. The teacher always provided sound input and her guidance was typically followed. Then the school district “put her in charge” (i.e. made her a manager) and she turned into a hated dictator. The school district quickly returned the teacher to her previous role. Had they taken the time to invest in her leadership skills they might have enjoyed a different outcome.

Leaders are not necessarily accountable (if they are not also the “manager” for the organization); a series of bad decisions or a change in conditions might cause a leader to fall out of favor or get left behind by an evolving organization.

A mentor is also a go-to person. This is an individual whose experiences and reputation make them a great source of advice. They’ve learned from their own mistakes & successes, as well as from others and they’re able to distill those learnings into practice and useful advice. Wisdom, a key attribute of a good mentor, can best be judged in hindsight. Does an individual’s decisions (and advice) generally turn out well? That track record builds a person’s reputation as a wise and trusted counselor and grows his or her sphere of influence.

The advice and opinions offered by a mentor are generally of the take-it-or-leave-it variety. A mentor is not likely to be held accountable for the failure of others, although they might credit themselves with another’s success.

A coach has an area of expertise or interest and a particular talent in helping others within that area. Not everyone with expertise has the ability or inclination to coach. You don’t have to be an expert in an area to coach.

A year ago I began a workout routine. Over time I became increasingly more proficient with my Wii-Fit exercise. A friend suggested I begin to run, but I laughed, argued, made excuses and generally avoided running. Soon my friend became my coach. Before I knew it I’d run in my first 5K. She’s not a professional runner, but she has useful experience running in 5K’s and she wanted to see me succeed. She encouraged me. She gave me tips and suggestions. And she cajoled me into finally signing up and participating in a 5K. She effectively coached me, mentored me and led me through the process of defining and meeting a specific goal.

It’s great to have someone in your life that can help you succeed but sometimes that “someone” must be you yourself. I’ve recently come to appreciate the need for me to be that person for myself. As the head of US-based operations for a Taiwanese company I rarely see or hear from my boss and when I do, his input does not typically take the form of constructive feedback, mentoring or coaching. I can choose to be a victim, remaining stuck in old behaviors or I can identify opportunities for my own improvement, set personal goals and develop action plans for bringing about the desired changed. I also have to find ways to measure progress and hold myself accountable.

I am in the process of managing myself: I have the assigned responsibility and accountability for being the best me I can be. That means I have to move from the role of “Engineering Manager” to “Director of Operations”, which carries more than just an increase in responsibilities. I need to define goals for the team and strive to meet those goals in an ever-changing climate. Failure could mean the demise of the organization (i.e. closing shop and handing out pink slips). While that may be an extreme view, it keeps me motivated to outswim the sharks.

I am in the process of leading myself: I am an avid follower of Michael Hyatt, Chairman & CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishers. His blog is sub-titled “Intentional Leadership”. He regularly posts tips that are useful for leading, mentoring and coaching oneself and others. I am choosing my path.

I am in the process of mentoring myself: I’m paying attention to the leaders I consider effective, and those I don’t (i.e. “what not to do”). I have a stack of management & leadership books (some I’ve read before, some not) that I’m reading with a fresh eye. As I read I’m thinking about how I interact with others, but also how I interact with myself. I’m identifying a few key areas for improvement and focusing on opportunities for immediate change.

I am in the process of coaching myself: I’m setting goals, defining expectations and deliverables, and most importantly I’m devoting the time needed for these efforts. I’m encouraging myself, cajoling and pushing and striving for continuous improvement.

I am a proponent of intentionally leading myself, how about you? Are you ready to take the initiative and be accountable? Think about these questions:

  • How do you set goals/expectations?
  • How do you measure progress?
  • How do you give yourself feedback?

These are key elements in effectively learning to manage yourself to success.



November 2009 and November 2010 sit like bookends on opposite ends of a year, bounding another transitional period of my life. Most of the world lives a cycle that starts in January and ends in December but I, perhaps because it is the month of my birth, seem to define my years starting and ending with November.

On November 1, 2008 I began a new life. From that date through 2009 I effectively ran the US-based engineering operations for my Taiwanese employer, a supplier for my former employer (MFE), operating out of MFE’s building, working with most of the same people I’d always worked with at MFE, just paid for from a different coffer. My boss was a new element, though. He had no real experience with MFE and was a lame duck in the immediate situation. I spent most of ’09 doing his job and my job. As the year drew to a close, I’d had enough. I was ready to quit.

I spent November ’08 blogging every day as part of NaBloPoMo. In the year spanning Novembers between ’08 and ’09 I wrote over 300 blog posts (between A Mother’s Angst and Our Own Oasis). I began to imagine a different life. A life as a Writer. An Author. And with that in mind I spent November ’09 writing a novel as part of NaNoWriMo. Immediately after finishing (68k words) I headed to China on business. I’d barely recovered from jetlag when a twist of fate (karma, the almighty justice of God) eliminated the era of my old boss and put me in charge of the US-based operations.

In January, 2009 I became the Acting Division Director of an engineering organization. So, I did what any aspiring author would do. I started a 3rd blog. This one. One intended to chronicle my experiences as a leader. A site where I could share the wisdom gained through painful experience. Or something like that.

That’s not exactly what happened. I’ve posted about a dozen times on this site. Ironically my first post was a list of all of the books I wanted to read this year. I’ve read 2 of the books on that list. I’ve read other books, mind you…but it’s a sad reflection of my ability to be intentional.

In total, counting all three blogs, it seems I’ve posted a grand total of somewhere around 50 times in the last year. Compared with the over 300 the year before. Sure, I’ve been busy. Sure. Yes. I’ve been busy. Unh-hunh…yeah.

To my credit, before this year I’d never run in a 5k and this year I ran in 3. I spent the better part of the year absorbed in a battle with physical fitness. On top of that, my husband & I celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary with a ceremony/reception. We went to Hawaii. And I started playing the piano again (referring to my efforts to diligently practice). On the work front, I’ve made 2 trips to Taiwan. I manage Payroll and Benefits and IRS {shudder} things I don’t want to talk (or think) about. I publish bi-weekly operations reports. I’ve hired some, fired some, laid off one and lost (through attrition) other key members of a relatively small team. It’s been quite a year.

And then came this November. After my August post about my workaholic ways I’ve been diligent in my efforts to push away from the office and my compulsion to log into e-mail afterhours, etc. And somehow life filled the void. That’s not a bad thing, but it’s not…intentional. There’s no discipline in busyness. And so, in mid November, I cracked down and finished my second novel.

Which brings me to the point: this year I intend to be intentional. I’ve recently developed some marvelous habits. My inbox is under control (Alleluia!). I am taking time every day to peruse news of the industry. I am training myself to act like a Director (more on this later).

My theme for the next 12 months is “Boundaries & Balance”. I’ve got to say “no” to some things so I can say “yes” to others. I plan to use this space for mentoring myself and holding myself accountable. I hope you get something out of it.

Do you have a natural rhythm? Is your year bounded by the calendar or your birthday or something else altogether?