07 Aug Mentors and Coaches – Is there a difference?

Mentor – “A wise and trusted counselor or teacher.”

Coach – “A person who trains an athlete.”

One of my most rewarding career experiences came when I was an information and technology trainer at a major pharmaceutical company.  My two bosses comprised an incredible mentoring team that taught me much more than what I imparted on the students that cycled through our program.  My immediate supervisor and his boss had worked together for years, and knew each other like family.

My immediate supervisor was often misunderstood by other managers in the organization.  He was an intellectual and did not fit the typical, country-club executive: and I admired him for that.  What I learned from him was how to be a keen observer in the classroom to know whether learning was actually taking place, and if not, adjust so that it could; and would.  For him, it was all about the students.  As what I learned in the army, always put your charges first.  My boss’s name was Gordon Marquette, and he always astounded me by seeing things other did not… or could not.  He not only heard what was spoken, but he heard what was said – and not said (the unheard).  He could interpret body language in the context of group dynamics, and he was able to watch an instructor’s nuanced affect (or not) on students.  Even more remarkably, he had total recall of a two-hour block of instruction.

During debriefings (coaching), his observations demonstrated a total commitment to my development, and that led to trust, respect and loyalty from me.  To this day, I am one of his biggest fans, and will be forever grateful.  I define this as leadership, and he certainly helped me understand my effect on others while teaching.  His observations helped me discover where I needed to adjust and he was supremely patient in helping me come up with solutions that I could commit to – that is, changes I needed to make in my own attitude and behaviors.

What made the experience even more remarkable was my boss’s boss – a man by the name of Tom Markey.  As a college sophomore, Tom was on Loyola University Chicago’s famed basketball team that won a national championship in 1963.  Tom always wore a suit, but I could always picture him in old Converse canvass rubber-toed high-top sneakers.  He was always bent at the ready as if he was expecting a pass, and he often asked, “Are you on today, Jan?”  To which there was only one acceptable reply: “I’m always on, Tom!”  He’d then say, “Thataboy!”  And it was OK that he used the word boy.  He was that kind of coach and mentor.  You just wanted to win for him and the team.

Gordon and Tom were both mentors and coaches.  As my coaches, they help me hone my performance in the interest of the team and ultimately, the organization.  As mentors, they provided advice, shared knowledge and experiences, and used a Socratic approach to help me self-discover.  In essence, the helped germinate the seed that has bloomed into what I refer to as self-reliant leadership.

“The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called ‘truth.'” – Dan Rather

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