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Recommended Article: Defining the differences between a mentor, counselor, and a coach


describe the imageA manager plays many roles, or to use the cliché, wears many different hats. They are the boss, the strategist, the facilitator, the coordinator, the coach, the mentor. They also serve two key functions in an organization:

1) meet or exceed expectations and enhance the bottom-line through employee performance
2) meet or exceed the individual’s need for recognition/achievement through employee development

For a manager to succeed as a leader in these key areas, they need to know when to coach, when to counsel, and when to mentor. The purpose of this article is to distinguish these roles and when to apply the concepts of coaching, counseling and mentoring.

The Coach: Train, Direct, Support

Employee Performance is based upon job-related objectives and company goals involving quality, quantity, and timeliness. When an employee needs to learn a new skill or is starting to struggle to meet the minimum requirements of the position, this is a great opportunity for a manager to coach. By meeting with them, one on one, the manager can seek clarification, review expectations and provide the necessary tools to help them be successful. Perhaps the employee needs additional support and direction or possible retraining.

The role of a coach should not be associated with any type of non-punitive disciplinary or corrective action.

Counsel: Identify, Specify, Resolve

When an employee fails to improve or continues to struggle in meeting the minimum requirements of their position or there is a repeated or inappropriate behavior that needs to be addressed, the manager should take on a more serious role and counsel the individual. Counseling requires the manager to meet with the employee, one on one, identify the problem, specify what has to be corrected, and work together to resolve the issues. The first meeting may be considered as a verbal warning, depending upon the organization’s corrective action policy. Subsequent meetings, the manager may continue to “wear” the counsel hat if the employee fails to demonstrate improvement or correct the behavior.

Notice, counseling is associated with non-punitive disciplinary or corrective action. The objective of the supervisor is to help the employee succeed by identifying, specifying, and resolving the issues.

Mentor: Coach, Share, Advocate

The first step a manager needs to take before mentoring is to identify whom to mentor. Those individuals should be their top performers. Furthermore, unlike Employee Performance which is based upon measureable expectations and standards, Employee development is subjective. The role of the mentor is more than training. The manager shares their knowledge of the organization and their wisdom to enable their star performers to take on duties beyond their current job. They share their contacts and provide opportunities to their mentees to show others what they are capable of doing.

Lastly, there may be times when a manager slips from one role to the next depending upon where the employee is at in terms of their performance and/or achievements. The overall goal of the manager should be to provide their employees with the necessary tools to succeed regardless of the hat they wear.


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