Do you know when to teach, mentor or coach?


Do you know when to teach, mentor or coach?

One of the challenges facing people managers is how best to support employee development in order to improve performance. When it comes to regular development conversations the options include teaching, mentoring and coaching. So, which one to choose? It all depends on the circumstances, ability and attitude of your direct report.


Employees that are enthusiastic but may lack the knowledge and skills required to perform effectively – typically those new in a role, tend to respond better to a more directive approach such as offering guidance, instructing and telling them how to do things. This teaching approach works best when there’s a knowledge gap, when time is short and when the task is ‘one-off’, urgent or relatively straightforward.

The downside is that the manager is the one doing the thinking and solving the problem. It can end up as time consuming if the employee turns to you every time they can’t do something. You end up owning the performance challenges rather than the employee.


Mentoring is less directive, where you offer advice, make suggestions or ‘open doors’. It is up to your employee whether they act on your advice or not. They take more ownership.

This works best for longer term issues such as career progression, learning the ropes or gaining organisational wisdom.


Coaching is focused on building your employee’s self-awareness, taking responsibility and committing to action. This non-directive approach relies on listening, paraphrasing and asking powerful questions.

This works best when building on what the employee already knows, enhancing behaviours, addressing motivation or commitment challenges or delivering on repeat responsibilities. The manager in these situations should always expect more from the employee than the person believes they are capable of accomplishing. In short, the manager coach helps others to perform to full potential.

While it may initially take a little longer to coach rather than teach, for the employee it engenders self-awareness, deeper learning, self-reliance and greater ownership of their own performance.

“Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime”.

The manager doesn’t have to know all the answers, in fact for coaching it’s often better if you don’t. There’s a great buzz when you support someone to figure things out for themselves. If done well coaching strengthens the manager/employee relationship, engagement, motivation and retention.

When choosing how to approach the development of their employees, managers should ask themselves is this a teaching, mentoring or coaching opportunity. Most of us find it easy to give direction, offer guidance and advice or teach, but we find coaching difficult especially when we know the answer.

What’s your experience in teaching, coaching, and mentoring people?

Learn more on how you can use the GROW coaching model to improve employee performance.

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OMT Global

Established in 1989, OMT works with large organisations to develop the leadership skills of their people managers, from first-time leaders right through to senior-level executives. We provide a range of consultancy, training and development services for organisations that want to further develop and retain their talent. OMT excels in helping organisations move from ad hoc or one-off efforts to a new way of behaving and working.

Talk to us about how we can help you and your organisation