Coaching vs Mentoring vs Feedback: What’s the Difference?

Coaching and MentoringBrowsing Twitter, LinkedIn, or your favorite business blog these days subjects you to a barrage of advice about what you should be doing to lead more effectively. Become a coach to maximize the performance of your team! Nurture a mentoring culture to bring the best out in people! Give constant feedback to engage employees effectively! But which one should you be focusing on? What’s the difference between them? Here’s a quick rundown: 

Let’s start with FEEDBACK. Simply put, feedback is telling. It’s describing workplace performance with a focus on behaviors. If an employee is falling short or making errors, the manager needs to have a feedback conversation with them. What does feedback sound like? “Liz, when you interacted with that patient at the front desk you neglected to go over the intake form with her. Please make sure this happens every time.” Feedback is an important skill both in correcting performance and recognizing it. “Liz, I notice you always help our elderly patients put their coats on before they leave. That’s such a powerful gesture. Thank you.” Giving constructive feedback in a way that preserves dignity while simultaneously improving performance is a learned skill. It takes practice.

When it’s appropriate: Feedback should be ongoing however in the aftermath of an error, a performance issue, or a notable contribution, feedback should be timely and specific. Within 24 hours is ideal.

Why it matters: Leaders who can’t have feedback conversations leave themselves and others stuck in mediocrity.

So if feedback is telling, what is COACHING? Simply put: Coaching is asking. The ultimate purpose of coaching is self-actualization. Good coaches ask the right questions, in the right order, to prompt reflection, identify assumptions, and motivate thoughtful action. Use open-ended questions to facilitate this process. What options do you see? is a basic coaching question, one that forces access to a different part of the brain. Furthermore, it invites contribution and assigns value to the opinion, experience, and knowledge of the person being asked, which are key components of employee engagement.

When it’s appropriate: Linda Miller, in Essential Coaching Skills for Managers says coaching is appropriate when any of the following occurs: A) You believe the employee has the ideas and/or the answers; B) Their development is as important as the task; C) They need to take responsibility for what they’re doing; and D) They keep showing up for the same things.

Why it matters:We want the breadth and scope of each employee’s knowledge and skill set to grow. Coaching facilitates that growth.

MENTORING is a different approach altogether. Mentoring provides the chance for lesser experienced professionals to develop a relationship with established or senior leaders in the same organization, profession, or region. It can take the form of an experienced employee assigned as a guide to a new hire. It may come about when an employee wishes to emulate the career path or abilities of another professional and asks to connect with them for that purpose. When a mentoring relationship is working properly the mentee is gaining guidance, perspective, and knowledge from a trusted and capable advisor. The mentor is enjoying the opportunity to challenge, nurture, and develop another person, sharing their wisdom along the way. Of note: a mentor may coach, but a coach is not a mentor. Also, a mentor is typically someone that does not have oversight responsibility for workplace performance. Some boss’s end up as mentors, but it’s not the same job description.

When it’s appropriate: Mentoring is an important component of onboarding, succession planning, leadership development and career development.

Why it matters: It’s a powerful way for employees to access knowledge, advice, and support.

Feedback, coaching, and mentoring are all important tools in the leader toolkit. What I’ve written here is by no means the full picture of each subject so I encourage you to pursue additional resources on these topics and to encourage your organizations to invest in skill development in each area. Understanding each and the circumstances that dictate their use can help you, and your team members, find more success on a daily basis.

Now it’s your turn! Share your comments, thoughts, concerns, or stories in the comments box below!

Joe Mull, M.Ed. is President of Ally Training & Development, which provides leadership development, management training, and staff development programs to healthcare providers. He is the author of Cure for the Common Leader: What Physicians & Managers Must Do to Engage & Inspire Healthcare Teams which is available on Amazon.com. For more info on Joe visit http://cureforthecommonleader.com

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5 thoughts on “Coaching vs Mentoring vs Feedback: What’s the Difference?

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    • I’m sorry, Penny I don’t know. The image was secured for me secondhand to accompany the blog. Perhaps if you google search “coaching wordcloud” or something like that you’ll find an agency to license the image to you. Good luck! ~JM

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