Instructing, Coaching & Mentoring

Instructing, Mentoring & Coaching: What's the difference?

Instructing, mentoring and coaching are three important skills that every leader should possess, as there will be times that they are called upon.

Sadly, many leaders and organisations alike, do not actually know the difference between them and when they should be used. In this article, I'm going to attempt to remove any uncertainty around the topic.

 

The IMC Continuums

The best way to explain how Instructing, Mentoring and Coaching are different is to plot them on two continuums.

 

The horizontal continuum represents information control; the extent to which the information being transferred is controlled by the sender. High information control requires less thought on the part of the recipient, whereas low information control requires more thought on the part of the recipient.

The vertical continuum represents communication control; the extent to which the communication is controlled by the sender. High communication controls is more one-way/directive, whereas low communication control is more two-way/collaborative.

 

What is Instructing and when should it be used?

Instructing is the process of transferring specific instructions. It sits in the top right of the continuums because it requires high communication and information control.

Instructing is a very directive communication that is reliant on the instructor's ability to provide clear and concise direction or instructions.

Instructing should be used when the recipient is incapable of completing a task or achieving an objective within a given timeframe without specific instructions. Some examples of this might include:

  • When an individual or individuals require clarity around their roles and responsibilities.
  • When an individual is assigned a task that they have never done before.
  • When time is of the essence.

 

What is Mentoring and when should it be used?

Mentoring is the process of providing guidance and advice. It sits in the middle right of the continuums because it requires moderate to high communication and information control.

Mentoring is reliant on the mentor's ability to share an experience, tell a story or provide guidance followed by asking coaching styled questions. Information control is high because the second the mentor shares their views they inadvertently bias the thought process of the mentee.

Mentoring should be used when the sharing experience and expertise is required to support solutions. Some examples of this might include:

  • To support the on-boarding of new employees.
  • To support individuals as they transition into different roles.
  • Reverse mentoring of technical skills for senior leaders.
  • The relationship between a mentor and mentee is founded on the basis that the mentor is there to give advice or share experiences.

 

What is Coaching and when should it be used?

The history of coaching can be traced back Socrates, and the Socratic method; the practice of asking questions to promote inquiry and learning. Coaching is the process of having a collaborative conversation that elicits thoughts on how to complete a task or achieve an objective. It sits on the bottom left of the continuums as it requires low communication and information control.

Coaching is reliant on the coach's ability to take the coachee through a process of self-discovery and build commitment towards an actionable outcome by listening to everything that is said and unsaid and asking thought-provoking questions.

Coaching should be used when you want to develop self-sufficiency and build commitment and ownership. Some examples of this might include:

  • To develop the capabilities or correct behaviours of an individual or individuals.
  • To help an individual or individuals to become self-sufficient (teach them to fish).
  • To build commitment and ownership from an individual or individuals towards a set of actions.
  • To help an individual or individuals to think their way through an issue.
  • The relationship between a coach and coachee is founded on the basis that the coach is there to help the coachee to think their way through their issues.


Here's a very simple example of how Instructing, Mentoring and Coaching might be applied to an individual who is struggling to manage their time.

  • Instructing: Ok. For the next 5 days I want you to classify every task according to whether they are Important & Urgent, Important & Not Urgent, Urgent & Not Important and Not Urgent & Not Important. Everything that is Urgent & Important gets done first etc.
  • Mentoring: I use to have a similar problem when I was your age, but I found a solution in classifying every task according to whether they are Important & Urgent, Important & Not Urgent, Urgent & Not Important and Not Urgent & Not Important. I found this structure very helpful to me. What structure would you find helpful?
  • Coaching: Why do you think you are having a problem with time management? What would managing your time better look like? How would you feel if you were able to manage your time better? What can you do to manage your time better?

As you can see, Instructing, mentoring and coaching all have a role to play... That said, if you want individuals to truly own the idea and commit to a set of actions, then they have to discover the solution for themselves. This is why coaching is so powerful!