Manager and Mentor – Knowing the Difference

Mentoring programs have become an essential part of the retention strategy for most large organizations.  Formal mentoring programs consistently result in higher employee engagement and higher growth potential, especially in millennial employees. When it comes to mentoring at work, most employees tend to look up to their managers as mentors.

Managing and mentoring are two methods of leading an individual to achieve a specific set of goals and both are essential for an employee’s success within an organization. However, mentoring extends beyond the walls of an organization and plays a major role not only in the growth of an employee within the organization but also in a larger professional perspective.

Many times, employees or mentees may find themselves faced with the challenge of identifying mentors amongst colleagues and managers. Both these roles are often viewed with overlapping opportunities to guide and help an individual achieve success. However, the end goal and methods of approach in a mentorship and management are different. Below are a few points that can help a mentee identify and differentiate mentors from managers.

  1.       Mentors Guide, Managers Set Targets
The focus is generally on achieving organizational and departmental goals. A manager must ensure that their advice and decisions are always aligned with the organizational vision.With a mentor the focus shifts to personal and career growth. The agenda of a mentor-mentee relationship is inclined towards sharing knowledge and experience.
The manager might delay or restrict a learning opportunity for an employee if it conflicts with the organization’s expectations of the employee.A mentor never restricts exploring new avenues for their mentees as long as it helps with their career growth and aspirations.
  •       Mentoring is Personal, Management is Work
Manager and employee relationship is a formal agreement guided and bound by company policies. The scope of a manager’s role is limited by the framework set by the organization to achieve business targets.Mentoring in most cases is more of an informal agreement between a mentor and mentee. The scope of this extends beyond organizational structure and need not be constrained by the current role of mentee in an organization.
A manager trying to fit themselves into the role of a mentor may be faced with a conflict of responsibilities for themselves and also towards the employee. A manager may be able to empathize if an employee’s performance is affected by issues on the personal front, but his/her focus remains on best using the team’s potential to achieve targets.  A mentor is not faced with the conflict of responsibilities towards their mentees. Therefore, they can empathize and understand personal issues that are restricting a mentee from achieving their goals and possibly be able to provide additional guidance.
  •       Communication is the key
A manager is usually an authoritative figure responsible for reviewing the contributions of an employee and giving feedback that affects not only the employee’s performance but also, in turn, will be assessed during their review process.A mentor is a guiding figure and the feedbacks from meetings do not directly reflect in the employee’s reviews and promotions within the organization. Mentor feedback and reviews are personal communication targeted to help a mentee remain focused on their long-term goals.
This formal arrangement leads to employees potentially wanting to hide their weaknesses from the manager. They do not want to be seen as vulnerable or receive critical and negative feedback.Open and candid communication is a key element in a mentor-mentee relationship. In fact, the entire purpose of the relationship is to openly talk about your shortcomings and learn how to overcome them with the help of an experienced mentor.

The role of a mentor and a manager are both extremely significant in the success for any employee as an individual in a company. Often, manager and mentor roles overlap and employees may find themselves being mentored by managers. A manager as a mentor is the best fit for a mentee when the focus of mentee is to attain success in their current position.  Mentorship is essentially also a part of a manager’s job.

An employee’s focus must be on growth, whether it is led by the manager or guided by the mentor. Good leadership is defined by the ability of a person to drive individuals and teams towards success despite the differences one may face. While mentors can be of utmost help in achieving broad professional goals, managers can help an employee focus on the immediate task that are elemental contributors to the bigger picture.