The Difference Between Mentoring and Teaching: When to Use Each Method as a Leader

Growth. We all want it. As individuals, we want to grow in our personal lives. As professionals, we want to grow in our careers. As leaders, we want to see growth in those we lead. But how exactly is growth accomplished?

There are many theories and models out there that offer different paths to growth. While each has its own merits, they all share one common ingredient: people. At the end of the day, it is people who grow. It is people who help other people grow, and it is people who are helped by others when they themselves are growing.

This is where mentoring and teaching come in. Both are methods of helping others grow, but they are not the same thing. So what is the difference between mentoring and teaching? When should you use each method as a leader? Let’s take a closer look.


Mentoring vs Teaching: The Leader’s Dilemma

Ah, the dilemma of the leader—to mentor or teach, that is the question. Of course, both mentoring and teaching have their place in the leader’s toolkit, but it’s essential to know when to use each one.

As a leader, a portion of your job is to help your employees or team level up. It doesn’t really matter what your title is—if you’re in a position of authority, then it’s up to you to help others grow and develop.

Building a powerful team enables you to not only give those who look up to you the opportunity to fill your shoes one day, but it also allows you the time to focus on other things. After all, if you have a team that can work independently, then you’re free to pursue other projects or goals.

So, the question is, how do you go about leveling up your team? Do you take the time to mentor them or teach them? The difference between mentoring and teaching can be subtle, but knowing which one to use and when is essential.


Leader Mentor

Mentoring is about relationships. It’s about sharing your experiences and knowledge with someone who can benefit from them. The undeniable truth is that we all have something to share, and we can all benefit from the experiences of others. So why not share what you know with those who can use it?

A mentor is someone who sees the potential in somebody and wants to help them reach it. A mentor is not a teacher—they are not there to give you the answers or tell you what to do. They don’t provide direct answers or solutions to problems. Instead, they help mentees find their own answers by asking questions and providing guidance.

A good mentor will help you gain clarity, set goals, and stay accountable. They will also offer advice and support when needed, but ultimately, it is up to the mentee to take action. In other words, a mentor is more of a coach than a teacher.

Mentoring is best used when:

  • You have the time to commit to a long-term relationship;
  • The person you’re mentoring has the potential to take your place;
  • You want to develop a closer relationship with someone on your team.

A mentor is a sounding board, a confidante, and a source of wisdom. The goal of mentoring is to help the mentee grow into their role and reach their full potential. Mentoring is not just about giving advice; it’s also about listening and supporting.

A leader mentor is someone who takes the time to get to know their team members on a personal level. As a result, they build relationships of trust and mutual respect. They are always looking for ways to help their mentees grow, both professionally and personally.

Leader Teacher

Teaching, on the other hand, is about imparting knowledge. It’s about showing someone how to do something that they don’t know how to do. When you’re teaching, you are the expert, and the focus is on transferring your knowledge to the learner.

You may have to train because the person has never done a particular task before or because a very specific process must be followed. Either way, the leader can provide the guidance and support that their team needs to get the job done.

A leader teacher is someone who takes the time to share their expertise with their team. They are patient and willing to answer any questions that their team members might have, and are always looking for ways to improve the skills of others.

The overall goal of leader teaching is to help the learner understand the task at hand and learn how to do it themselves. It’s about empowering them with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful.


Final Thoughts

We can’t say it enough: knowing when to use each method is critical. While there is no right or wrong answer, there are definitely times when one method is more appropriate than the other.

To recap:

  • Mentoring is when you want to guide someone in how to get to an answer. They ultimately decide the steps and the delivery method, but you provide guidance, support, and advice along the way.
  • Teaching is best used when you need to show someone how to do something that they don’t know how to do, or there is a precise process that must be followed.

Both mentoring and teaching are essential methods of team member and leader development.  Using both at the right time will level up your team more effectively to reach their full potential.

So, the next time you’re thinking about how to develop your team, ask yourself: Is this a mentoring moment, or a teaching moment? The answer will help you choose the best path forward.

It’s crucial to note that in either teaching or mentoring your team, don’t be afraid to let the person fail. Just ensure they fail safely. Failing safely means that they have the support and resources they need to recover from their failure without negative impact to the business or their career. After all, you don’t learn to ride a bike without falling first. We learn through failure, which often helps us learn faster, or even more on the subject.

Failing is recoverable, but if you never take the chance, you’ll never know what could have been. So go out there and mentor and teach your team to the best of your ability. You might just be surprised by how much they grow.

Contact North Executive Advisors for Executive Coaching

At North Executive Advisors, we specialize in leader development. Our team of executive coaches not only have the experience and expertise to help you develop your team, but they also have the tools and resources to help you achieve your goals.

If you’re interested in learning more about our leadership development services, we encourage you to contact us today. We would be happy to answer any questions you might have and help you determine if our services are right for you. Thank you for reading! We hope this article was helpful in understanding the difference between leader mentoring and leader teaching. We wish you the best of luck in developing your team into the best that it can be.

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