Leadership development is the process of developing the skills needed to perform as an effective leader in an organization. Considering that almost a third of employees who quit in the first 90 days blame unsatisfactory leadership, developing these skills is crucial for attracting and retaining talent in a competitive hiring market. Leadership development can also differentiate your organization from competitors, increase profits, leverage your business strategy, and help you adapt to major changes.
Organizations often use coaching and mentorship strategies for leadership development to support the company’s talent management strategy. Coaching and mentoring are valuable for helping your organization’s leaders develop the skills needed to reach business goals and engage employees. While coaching and mentoring can support a variety of leadership responsibilities, they often focus on developing communication, self-awareness, and task-oriented skills.
However, the terms “coaching” and “mentorship” are often used interchangeably even though they are two different approaches. Without understanding the difference—and more importantly, which is better suited to your goals—you could end up investing a lot of time and resources in a leadership development strategy that delivers poor results.
How do coaching and mentoring each support leadership development, and which strategy should you pursue?
What is coaching?
Coaching is a performance-driven approach to leadership development that typically involves a formal, one-on-one relationship between a leader and a coach. Coaching delivers on specific skills or performance goals. For example, the GROW model is a widely used coaching model that helps individuals set and achieve goals. It stands for Goal, Reality, Options and Will.
Goal: The first step in the GROW model is to establish a clear and specific goal. This means that the coach and the individual must agree on what the goal is, why it is important and what success looks like.
Reality: The next step is to assess the current reality, this includes understanding the current situation, the individual’s current skills, knowledge and resources. This step helps to identify any barriers or obstacles that may need to be addressed in order to achieve the goal.
Options: Once the goal and current reality have been established, the coach and the individual can begin to explore different options or strategies that can be used to achieve the goal. This step involves brainstorming and considering different possibilities.
Will: The final step is to determine the individual’s motivation and commitment to achieving the goal. This step involves identifying any potential challenges and creating a plan for overcoming them. It also includes setting a time frame for achieving the goal and determining what actions need to be taken to make it happen.
The GROW model is a simple and effective tool for coaching individuals to achieve their goals. It helps to ensure that the goal is clear and specific, that the individual is aware of their current reality, that they have considered different options and that they are committed to achieving the goal.
Compared to mentoring, coaching is usually more intensive and happens over a finite time frame. A coach also focuses on a leader’s experience, prompting them to understand their own skills gaps and paths forward.
What is mentoring?
Mentoring is a more open-ended, informal relationship that supports leadership development. Instead of focusing on specific skills gaps and performance targets, mentoring informs a broader scope of leadership skills that evolve over many years.
There are several different models that can be used in mentoring programs at work, but some of the most commonly used models include:
The Traditional Mentoring Model: This model involves a more experienced employee (the mentor) providing guidance, advice, and support to a less experienced employee (the mentee) in a one-on-one relationship. The mentor serves as a role model, sounding board, and advisor to the mentee, and helps the mentee to develop the knowledge, skills, and networks they need to be successful in their career.
The Peer Mentoring Model: This model involves pairing individuals with similar levels of experience and expertise (peers) to work together as mentors and mentees. This model can help to foster a sense of community and collaboration among employees and can be especially useful for developing new skills and networking.
The mentoring model that an organization chooses will depend on their specific needs and goals for the mentoring program. The key is to ensure that the model is well-structured, well-supported, and well-communicated and that it aligns with the organization’s goals and culture.
Which leadership development strategy is for you?
The right leadership development strategy depends on your goals. Before pursuing a mentoring or coaching strategy, consider which challenges your organization is facing and which leadership skills are underrepresented. If your organization’s leaders mainly have immediate, performance-based challenges, they will likely benefit from coaching in relevant performance areas. Make sure you engage trained coaches with sufficient experience and credentials in their performance area.
A mentoring approach may be better suited to leaders who need ongoing guidance for a variety of leadership challenges rather than urgent performance requirements. However, many organizations benefit from a custom solution that combines as-needed coaching and long-term mentoring relationships.
The bottom line
As the old saying goes, “people leave managers, not companies.” New challenges like the Great Resignation, increasingly remote workforces, and inflation now require strong leadership strategies for business success. Mentoring and coaching are both valuable approaches to leadership development, but they each address different needs. Before investing in a leadership development strategy, do your research to determine whether coaching, mentoring—or both—will support your organization’s goals.
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