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Columns : Stripes and Bars

Your Leadership Roles

Training, coaching, and mentoring are not the same thing.

November 17, 2015  |  by Amaury Murgado - Also by this author

You're kidding yourself if you think that you will ever have a fully trained and motivated command. With the natural ebb and flow of personnel issues your job as a supervisor never stops, and it goes far beyond signing time sheets and showing up on certain calls. You are a trainer, a coach, and if you care about the future, a mentor. Unfortunately, many in command positions use these three words interchangeably. In reality, each has its own role, specific purpose, and desired outcome.

Of the three, training is the easiest to understand. In order to get where you are now in your career, you had to graduate a law enforcement academy, get certified, and later complete on-the-job training to move toward full-time status with the agency that hired you. Training is very formal, structured, and has well-defined learning objectives. It is often relatively brief as compared to coaching or mentoring. After you attend training you are responsible for the knowledge, and there is rarely any follow-up unless you fail to perform to standard.

Coaching, on the other hand, is less structured, more performance driven, and involves no time constraints like a schedule you have to keep. It's based on how the subject being coached is dealing with the material. Coaching tends to be a short-term deal. Once the subject's skill has been improved upon your work is done. You can think of coaching as fine-tuning or upgrading past training. It goes beyond the mere presentation of material. There is more one-on-one interaction and you spend the time needed to work through the relevant skill sets. There is no formal classroom; you usually tackle coaching on duty.

Coaching is task oriented. The focus is on specific issues, such as managing time more efficiently, writing reports in the proper format, or learning how to speak more tactfully. Coaching requires someone who is capable of developing the assigned skills. The coach is usually a supervisor (mostly because of experience) or someone the supervisor delegates from within in his or her command. On occasion, the issue requires a subject matter expert outside of the agency.

Coaching is also performance driven. The purpose of coaching is to improve job performance. This involves enhancing current skills or identifying the need for new ones. Once the skills are improved upon, the coaching is no longer needed and everyone moves on to the next task.

Mentoring is more strategic in nature and involves long-term goals. It is relationship based, and that's why it's more long term in nature. The mentor shares what has helped him or her be successful along with lessons learned. The person being mentored shares his or her questions, concerns, or issues. Although specific scenarios may have led to creating the mentoring relationship, its focus goes beyond those initial concerns and ends up covering all areas of the job, including topics like balancing the pressures from work and home, office politics, and nagging self-doubt.

Mentoring is about personal development over the long term. It usually takes the form of a call to discuss the topic of the day that is creating some concern. The mentor listens, explains how he or she has handled similar situations in the past, and then helps the person being mentored walk through possible solutions. Sometimes a mentor just listens and lets the person vent. I have had several mentors over the years and even though some of them are retired, I can still pick up the phone and call any of them for advice. I pass it forward to those I mentor.

It's up to all of us to be good trainers, coaches, and mentors. It's the only way we can pass on institutional knowledge that comes from our experience. If you haven't become a mentor to at least one person in your agency yet, I strongly recommend that you do so.

Find someone with potential and help him or her. Look for that young sergeant who has that occasional deer in the headlights look. Work with that junior lieutenant struggling with the transition from firstline superior to secondline supervisor. Share what you've learned. Don't be politically correct; be as brutally honest as possible. It's one of the few ways you can help with the future of your agency and law enforcement in general.  No one is born a leader; they have to be developed. Through training, coaching, and mentoring, you will be doing your part to create more.

Amaury Murgado is a special operations lieutenant with the Osceola County (FL) Sheriff's Office. He has over 28 years of law enforcement experience, is a retired master sergeant from the Army Reserve, and holds a master's of political science degree from the University of Central Florida.


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