Should You Teach, Coach or Mentor?

Should You Teach, Coach or Mentor?

How you can groom your best employees to elevate department productivity and status, and ensure strong leadership succession in your management ranks

You need good people in your department to make your career shine. Capable deputies allow you to stretch to new goals, and a thriving and successful organization reflects well on you. A key step in your own career growth, then, is simply to hire great staff. Did I say "simply"?

The ideal employee is hard to find in any industry, even harder when what you want is management calibre staff to help you steward the IT mission of your company. You need someone who is not only technically competent, but an adept communicator, savvy with office politics, perceptive of implicit cultural issues, clear on big picture priorities and a good people manager. And if that isn't tricky enough, you are contending with the fact that this person is in great demand in a highly competitive job market.

So what can you do to meet the staffing demands of your department? The best answer to this challenge is not only to find and keep the perfect person, but also to create a system that identifies and grooms the people already in your ranks who show the most potential. Developing your staff by utilizing the internal, human resources you already possess is a very sensible way to advance your department's success in the current "do more with less" era, and ensures you have competent managers-to-be waiting in the wings.

Now this is where the contemporary buzzword comes into play: mentor. What does this word mean? What goes into being a good mentor and creating an effective mentoring program in your department? And how does it foster employee talent?

The word mentor in today's leadership environment has become like flypaper, catching all the assumptions and grand ideas that people throw at it. This accumulation can overwhelm leaders who consequently perceive mentoring as another vague and burdensome idea, not worth implementing.

To understand how mentoring can serve your department, let's begin by considering some simple definitions, starting with teaching and coaching, terms sometimes used synonymously with mentoring. In addition to distinguishing these three words, we'll explore appropriate applications of these concepts to an in-house development program aimed at elevating the calibre and loyalty of your staff. By untangling these terms, you can better assess what is needed and leverage what you currently have to develop successful and sustainable IT leadership from within your department.

TEACHING Teaching refers to instructing and imparting information, knowledge and wisdom. The teacher/student relationship implies that the teacher has the information, knowledge or wisdom that needs to be transferred to the student. The challenge for a teacher is to impart relevant information in such a way as to ensure that the receiver absorbs it. This kind of information-sharing is enhanced by the ready availability of off-the-shelf training modules, podcasts, HR manuals and Internet searches.

Teaching application: Consider what technical knowledge a potential IT manager would need to be proficient in the job: for example, working knowledge of the hardware and software systems, vendors, customers, management structures, HR policies, budget process, etc. Now consider who (or what) is best suited to deliver that information and gauge proficiency. In many ways, this aspect of development is the easiest. You are attempting to strengthen the technical knowledge a person would need to serve in a higher capacity. The metrics of competency are easy to observe.

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