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Are your managers leading or mentoring?

Look around and you’ll see a mountain of articles on websites about the differences between managers and leaders. Yes, there’s a major difference between the two, but what about mentoring? Is there something different about mentoring? After all, good leaders may be called strong mentors, but are these the same?

No, they’re not.

In fact, there’s a stark difference between managers, leaders, and mentors and we’re going to unpack the key questions you may want to know.

First, let’s review why ‘managers’ aren’t necessarily ‘leaders.’

Yes, some managers can be considered leaders and some leaders might be called managers. The terms may be considered interchangeable in some aspects, but for the most part a manager is someone who is responsible for controlling, or ‘managing’ the operations of a company or organization. This person will usually delegate tasks out and hold people highly accountable for their productivity.

A manager is not often concerned about the employees in the sense of building relationships; it’s more about the hours logged, the number of units manufactured or sold, and other bottom-line data that can easily be measured.

A leader, on the other hand, is someone who stands before a team and directs some of the action, but also trusts his or her team members enough to take responsibility for their actions. A leader guides people and is going to be somewhat concerned with how each person is faring (as far as that will impact success).

A leader will more often than not make changes when necessary, but that doesn’t mean firing an employee. It could mean reassigning them to a task that seems more fluid and a better fit, thus strengthening the team overall (Continental Search Outplacement, Inc.).

Now, what about those ‘mentors?’

A mentor is someone who is like a coach, but instead of a limited amount of time, usually a duration that could last a year or so, a mentor focuses on longer-term relationships. A mentor focuses on supporting the growth and development of the person he or she is helping.

A coach is someone who will focus on strengthening some key fundamentals of their student or who will aim to help that person eliminate potentially harmful behaviors from their repertoire.

Which is Better?

It’s not always easy for people to truly understand what’s the best approach in any given situation. To understand the key differences between the various positions of responsibility, we would do well to turn our attention to professional sports organizations.

The ‘General Manager’ of a sports team is the person overseeing day-to-day operations of the club. This person won’t likely get involved in personal relationships with the players or coaches (beyond perhaps the head coaches) but will have a vested interest in how things are progressing, if certain players or coaches are pulling their weight or helping the team become better.

The general manager isn’t interested in player development beyond the season or, at most, the next one or two seasons and will be more focused on trading ineffective team players for someone more suitable.

There are usually several coaches on a professional sports team, from the head coach to individual player development coaches. The head coach will be a leader, if he or she is good at their job, but they will also possess typical managerial qualities. This individual has to answer to the general manager but also wants to develop a cohesive team atmosphere, so he or she would need to become personally invested in the players.

Individual coaches are going to have the closest relationships with the players, working more intimately with them on a day-to-day, personal level on various fundamentals of their skills, talents, physical capabilities, and even mental focus.

A trainer, on the other hand, might be considered a mentor, as this individual would be working with one or two people on a team for a long duration of time. A personal trainer will be looking at all aspects of the player’s profile, from their stats to their upswings and downswings, will want to know more about their personal life and challenges that could be impacting their abilities, and subtle nuances that can impact performance.

In most cases a quality trainer or personal coach will have direct experience in the field, either as a player or coach in the past.

What’s best for your organization?

Most commonly, when people begin trying to understand the dynamics of managers, leaders, and mentors, they are seeking ways to strengthen their own organization. They want what’s best for the bottom line, but also tend to focus on longer-term goals besides just this calendar year’s numbers.

If you’re in charge of a team or employees and want to help them become stronger, you could certainly mentor one or two personally, but it’s an emotional and time commitment that doesn’t always work out for busy leaders. Yes, leaders can be great mentors, but not to everything; there’s simply not enough time in the day for that.

Co-workers and other team members can be mentors for newer employees coming on board. Some employees who have more experience in one particular field than some of their co-workers could become mentors for them.

The focus is on teaching them, understanding where they’re coming from, and seeing the best way forward to become more efficient, skilled, and/or productive in their positions.

Mentoring is a powerful way to strengthen companies, and developing mentoring skills. Managers have employees. Employees hold little loyalty. Employees come and go. Leaders and mentors have relationships, they have team members, and team members care about their team. Team members strive to make their team stronger and mentors help them do just that.