Published in November, 2016 Invenio magazine

Some organisations believe that the Manager is the Mentor, while others believe that a structured mentoring programme is the right way to go.

Finding the right mentor can do wonders for each person’s prospects and career, whether they are a Board Member, a Manager, a Team Leader, a member of a team, or an intern; but should it be the manager who is the mentor?  This is a question I am often asked by my clients.

Using the online Dictionaries, the definition of a:

  • manager is ‘a person who has control or direction of an institution, business, etc. or a part of the institution, business, division, or phase of it; and a person who controls and manipulates resources and expenditures’. A second definition is ‘to handle or direct with a degree of skill; to make and keep compliant; to exercise executive, administrative, and supervisory direction’.
  • mentor is ‘a wise and trusted counselor or teacher; and an influential senior sponsor or supporter.’ A second definition is ‘to serve as a trusted counselor or guide; to provide expertise to less experienced individuals; to build a relationship based upon communication’.

When you research further the:

  • managerial role is often described as a manager-employee relationship which focuses on achieving the goals and objectives of the division, department, and the company. The Manager knows everything about their members of staff – their strengths, their successes, their failures, and their points of continuing professional development.   
    The Manager must be proficient in a number of areas to be an effective leader.  They must be the person who can motivate employees to perform at their highest capabilities; while also being able to measure their own success by what they can get others to accomplish, and not solely by what as a manager, they can do on their own. They are also responsible for performing the annual reviews and monitoring progress of each member of their staff.          
  • mentoring role is a mentor-mentee (member of staff) relationship where the mentor focuses on the personal and professional development of the member of staff. A mentor does not need to know the strengths, the successes, the failures, or the points of continuing development; nor has any input into their annual review, salary increases, promotion decisions, holidays, etc.  The mentor focuses on the actual reason that the member of staff is working with them.     
    The mentor creates an environment in which the member of staff can talk to them about all aspects of the task they have been allocated or the goal they are required to achieve.  This environment allows the member of staff to feel free to discuss issues, concerns, fears, challenges openly and honestly in a confidential environment that will have no negative consequences on their position in the company.  The mentor has nothing to gain personally or professionally through the conversations. 

Should the manager be the person who knows the hidden fears and concerns, of their members of staff; while being able to have open conversations which allow the member of staff to disagree with the manager?  Will these disagreements carry over into their day-2-day working relationship?  What about the added familiarity that will come from the Manager mentoring a member of their staff?  Would the member of staff be able to be open and honest in their conversations with the mentor manager?

As always when these questions are asked there is no right or no wrong answer.  Fundamentally the roles of the manager and the mentor are different.  The manager must have the skills to be able to ‘manage’ the company, division, or department to a successful outcome, but is not required to know how each element of the company, division, or department operates in infinite detail.  The mentor on the other hand must have in-depth knowledge and personally gained experience in the infinite detail of one or more aspects of the company, division, department, or task.

Your Manager as your Boss, or Your Mentor?  Should you know the difference?

When you consider that both types of relationships are built on conversations, and that both types of conversations will have one ultimate outcome and that is to help the member of staff progress from where they are today to where they wish to be in their own professional future; does the member of staff need to know the difference? 

There seems to be two trains of thought about this.

  1. The Manager may use mentoring skills and techniques within their day-2-day role as a manager; but should not mentor their own members of staff.
  2. The manager can be both the Mentor and the Manager.

When you consider that the Manager’s responsibilities include successfully achieving the business goals, performing annual reviews (positive and not so positive), and monitoring progress of individuals in relation to the work they do in the business; and that they may not have the in-depth knowledge and personally gained experience of the individual tasks or actions required to be undertaken by the member of staff; how can they also be the mentor?

Although there is research that supports both trains of thought, by allowing an independent mentor (internal or external to the business) to work with one or more members of staff; the manager is provided the opportunity to truly manage the workload, as well as the progress of each member of staff.

Creating the successful life of your business alongside the professional lives of your staff
is a journey of self-discovery and achievement!
© Barbara J. Cormack

© 2016 Barbara J. Cormack.  All Rights Reserved.