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.

Christmas

During my stay at the Windsor hotel in Kunshan, China I was impressed by the presence of Christmas and all its trappings.

When I checked into the hotel their halls were decked and Christmas tunes were playing in the background (specifically – “All I Want for Christmas Are My Two Front Teeth” greeted me upon my arrival).

Whenever I called down for room service, I was greeted with a cheery “Merry Christmas” and I listened to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” Muzak looping through my time on hold. And given the need to put me on hold every time I called (while they hunted down someone who spoke English), I heard that tune plenty.
Finally, I asked a local co-worker about the broad adoption of this Christian holiday. I know that Christianity exists in China but I was surprised to see so many reminders and signs of Christmas. I was curious if there was an appreciation of the significance of the holiday. I was told that most businesses were touting Christmas because of the commercial aspect – there were goods to be sold, they primarily catered to business travelers and tourists.
I wonder whether things are remarkably different in the US. We may be more cognizant of the Christian roots of the holiday but how many families really focus on the celebration of Christ’s birth? How easy it is to get swept up in the decorations and the gift-giving!
Something that struck me during this Holiday season was the weirdness of Santa Claus. The song “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” is especially creepy. In the song, we attribute traits to Santa that better describe God. Consider Psalm 139:

Psalm 139

1 O Lord, you have examined my heart and know everything about me.
2 You know when I sit down or stand up. You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
3 You see me when I travel and when I rest at home. You know everything I do.
4 You know what I am going to say even before I say it, Lord.
5 You go before me and follow me. You place your hand of blessing on my head.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too great for me to understand!

7 I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence!
8 If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there.
9 If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
10 even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me.
11 I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—
12 but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.

13 You made all the delicate, inner parts of my body and knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 Thank you for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvelous—how well I know it.
15 You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion, as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.
16 You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.

17 How precious are your thoughts about me, O God. They cannot be numbered!
18 I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand! And when I wake up, you are still with me!

….

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

God knows when we’re sleeping, he knows when we’re awake. He knows when we’ve been bad or good (so be good for His son’s sake!) and He loves us anyway.

God doesn’t come to town once a year or only on special occasions. He is always here. He is always with us. He is always seeking a relationship with us. He’s forgiving and faithful, loving us beyond measure. He leads us to everlasting life! He’s way better than Santa Claus!

The conversation went something like this….

We’ve been giving Daughter #2 rides to/from church Wednesdays and Sundays so that she can babysit (paid position). This generally requires us to take 2 vehicles (the SUV and the “little car” – not my mustang because no way is the car-seat working in the back seat).

Today on the way from church to her home, Precious G-son dropped his juice bottle. It landed on the floor (backseat) amidst the empty and half-empty water bottles.

D#2: “You and dad have are bad about collecting half-empty water bottles.”

Me: “Why do you say that?”

D#2: “Because the truck and car always have a bunch of half-empty water bottles.”

Me: “So why are you assuming I’m a contributor? Have you checked the mustang for half-empty water bottles?”

D#2: “Well, I notice there are always half-empty water bottles around the house, too.”

{Side note – last week she asked me about my relaxation practices because she claimed I never relax. She cited my doing e-mail while watching TV as an example. The computer and TV are in different rooms. I mention this because, while we DO have a lot of empty and half-empty water bottles in the car, we do NOT have “a bunch of half-empty bottles” around the house.}

Me: “So why are you assuming I’m a contributor? Your logic is flawed. I’m not saying whether or not I *am* a contributor, just that you’re leaping from an observation to a conclusion.”

D#2: “Oh, I see. I guess it would be like my accusing my husband of leaving his dirty dishes laying around, even though some of the dirty dishes are mine.”

Me: “Actually, it would be more like my coming over to your apartment and saying ‘You have a bad habit of leaving your dirty dishes laying around’ even though there are 3 of you living there. My comment might be based on the observation that you’re the only person I ever see there and therefore I’d incorrectly assume that you’re the person leaving the dirty dishes laying around. You are a very logical person so I’m trying to help you see the fallacy in your conclusion.”

D#2: “Oh, I see. Well, it was just an observation.”

Me: “Well, your observation sounded a lot like a criticism.”

D#2: “Are you okay?”

Me: “Yes, I’m just wondering if you realize how you come across sometimes.”

I’m not sure if I’m okay or not. I’m not sure if my feedback was loving or harsh. Maybe I was just being defensive. Personally, I don’t think the collection of 6-7 bottles in the back of the car is any of D#2’s business, especially since we’re going out of our way to ferry her to and from church twice a week.