1. Drake, Kirsten DNP, RN, OCN, NEA-BC

Article Content

Q My unit isn't meeting the expectations for targeted outcomes. I don't feel that my supervisors are addressing the issues to improve our results. When speaking with my director, she said I need to start coaching my supervisors to meet goals. I thought I was doing this, but she said that I have more of a mentoring relationship with my supervisors. What's the difference?

Figure. No caption a... - Click to enlarge in new windowFigure. No caption available.

The terms coach and mentor are often used interchangeably; however, there's a difference between these two strategies. Let's take a moment to compare the two and then apply it to your situation. First, coaching is thought to be an approach to attain a short-term performance goal, whereas mentoring addresses a longer-term career goal. I think of coaching as the coach asking questions to provoke the person to make decisions for action. Being a mentor, I wait to be asked questions by the mentee, taking the stance of what they want to know. A coach is someone who can be hired if a person is seeking specific assistance, such as presentation skills or interpersonal communication, whereas mentors are often senior leaders within the organization.1


When applying this information to your situation, I would agree with your director that you need to take the coaching approach because you're trying to reach outcome goals. So how do you get into a coaching relationship with your supervisors? You'll need to determine if you want to take a directive or nondirective approach when coaching your supervisors. In a directive approach, you share experience and provide solutions; in a nondirective approach, you ask more questions to lead your supervisors to decide on actions.2


To better determine which avenue you want to take, start by asking yourself some questions. What's the goal? How much time do you have to attain the goal? A short timeframe requires a directive approach. How much ownership do you want the supervisors to take in achieving the goal? A great deal of ownership requires a nondirective approach and takes longer. How much time do you have to aid the supervisors in the process? If you're limited on time, a directive approach may be better. Are your supervisors willing to be participants? If they're willing, a nondirective approach would fit. As you can see, you may find that you need a balance between the two approaches to successfully coach your supervisors.


If this is still too abstract, turn to a coaching model to get started. One such framework is the GROW model, which stands for goal, reality, options, way forward.3 Use this to guide your conversations with your supervisors. Start by speaking about the aspirations for the unit's outcomes. Share the reality of the unit's situation and investigate any barriers. Next, discuss strengths and options for resources to achieve the outcomes. The way forward portion is where accountability and the supervisors' actions occur. This is the what, when, by whom, and the will to do it.3


Be prepared to address the situation if your supervisors don't make the shift to your new approach. Ultimately, as the leader you're responsible for your unit's goals and outcomes.




1. Zust C. Know the difference between coaching and mentoring. Kent State University. 2017. [Context Link]


2. Vitae. Approaches to coaching and mentoring. [Context Link]


3. Miller K. What is the GROW coaching model (incl. questions + examples)? Positive Psychology. 2021. [Context Link]