Remember: mentoring ain’t the same as managing

Mentors vs. Managers

Could write one million words on this topic — and in the process, bore the hell out of everyone reading — but instead, I’ll take a quote from this Fast Company article and we’ll go from there:

You already know this—but employers are crying out for fundamental skills in job candidates, like eye contact, positive attitudes, emotional intelligence, communication, and collaboration. Recent grads have been working on their GPA and hard skills—but haven’t taken courses in people skills. Employers today are more concerned with EQ than GPA. This means we must take time to mentor them, not just manage them. To earn a return on investment from younger staff, we have to actually make some investment. Instead of just giving them a task, also give them your time.

Yep. Couple of things:

1. Mentoring ain’t the same as managing: Mentoring is about connection, guidance, and coaching. Managing is about making sure a bunch of disparate people hit a bunch of deliverables. Those are not at all the same thing. (“Leaders” and “managers” ain’t the same thing, either.) If you want people who care about their work and keep coming back, try to be a mentor. If you want to chase revenue and up-sell bullet points to your bosses, be a manager.

2. Soft skills vs. fundamental skills: Huge disconnect here in terms of hiring lagging behind business needs. “Business needs” typically means “Get the best person we can get in the shortest amount of time conceivable, because we have deliverables to chase.” Hiring needs, on the other hand, typically means “Let’s suss out things like GPA, lags in resume, the correct job titles, professionalism in interviews, etc. and go from there. Can’t be hasty and gotta check all the legal boxes!” These two things are at a crossroads; this is why “headcount” is a clustermess. For a lot of people, “fundamental skills” mean “revenue skills.” We need to stop thinking about it this way; as business gets more complex and global, you need people that are good communicators and adaptable and can learn quickly (and want to learn quickly). Those are soft skills to a lot of old-school managers, but they matter a lot in the way most businesses are set up right now.

3. ROI On People: No one knows how to define this, and it’s a giant boondoggle to anything around “employee engagement.” If you get confronted with engagement issues, even if you’re the type of person interested in those topics … it’s going to fall by the wayside if you have actual ROI deliverables to chase down. There’s no ROI that most people can understand on people. The mentality is, “Well, if they leave, so be it … we’ll figure it out!” The people that the top dogs like will periodically get more money to stick around, especially if they threaten departing. But this article makes a good point on people ROI. Think about it in simple terms: invest in them (your time, as opposed to just tasks) and they can invest back in you. Soft and fluffy and not a bottom-line item, right? Right. But it’s an easy way to conceptualize why “actually caring about people who work for you” matters.

4. Tasks vs. Time: Goes to all the points above, but most managers see their role as “keep the trains moving.” You ever meet a manager who secretly doesn’t have that much on their plate but has a bunch of direct reports? I’ve worked for 3-4 of those. You go to get deliverables/projects from them and it’s all meaningless bullshit like “Update this PowerPoint from 2 years ago, I think someone needs to use it for something…” That’s horrible management. At that point, the extra 20K that person is making as a manager should probably be flushed down the nearest toilet. Everyone seems to think about management as “assigning tasks.” No one thinks about it as “valuing time.” You know who assigns tasks to you? A slave owner. You know who values your time? Your mother. (Well, give or take.) Pretty wide chasm between those two archetypes, no?



Ted Bauer