Coach vs. mentor

October 31, 2018

In order to foster high-performing teams, organizations need both coaches and mentors.

The recently completed baseball playoffs offers us a great perspective to review two key approaches to improving performance: coaching and mentoring.

Each team has several coaches that work directly with the players on the field. A coach’s job is to teach, support, and, in certain cases, provide constructive criticism. They do not go onto the field after a play but utilize the breaks between innings to give instructions or reinforce what was done well.

The team also includes players who have a great deal of experience and those who are “rookies," or new to the team. Rookies can learn lot from experienced players in key situations during a game. In addition, there is a lot to learn about the “culture” of the team–how everyone relates to each other, nick names, strengths of each player, suggestions on how to approach a key situation again (based on experience), and the coaches’ communication styles and decision-making process. Experienced players can help to support the growth and development of rookies by sharing tips on how to succeed, how to fit in to the team culture, and to answer questions when they arise.

It is important for the leaders of a medical practice to know if they are good coaches. Coaching is done by those in positions of authority as it is their direct responsibility. The purpose of coaching is to improve skills and knowledge of team members in order to elevate the entire team’s performance.

However, in order to develop the best team possible, leaders need to harness the knowledge and skills of the experienced team members and pass that information along to new members. This can be done effectively through mentoring programs.

Successful mentoring programs are formal in nature. Leaders can select respected employees with the right skills and experience and pair them with newer members of the team. The mentor does not have direct authority over the mentee. Instead, mentors act as internal advisors, helping mentees to integrate into the team.

Mentors share what has worked for them and the best ways to deal with key issues that surface throughout the clinic at any time. They also have more time to get to know the mentee, allowing a greater focus on the human relations aspect that leaders or coaches may not have the bandwidth for. The formal program may last only three to six months based upon an agreement that is signed initially, but the relationship can continue informally as long as both employees continue with the practice.

As we look to the future with the Millennial and the Gen Z generations becoming a significant part of our workforce, the development of a formal mentor program is a very real option to retention and improved performance.