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.