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supervisor vs mentor

 
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I was talking to someone I work with on the train and an interesting statement came up. He said at a certainly level, being a tech lead/mentor is essentially the same as actually being a supervisor. I kind of understand this as you have so much input to things that you are almost as involved as the real supervisor.

I think being a mentor/unofficial supervisor (without direct reports) is a subset of being an actual supervisor. I'm wondering what differences people have experienced between to the two. And whether your organization forces people to become supervisors as they advance.

Some definitions I'm using so this makes sense:
supervisor - someone who has direct reports
tech lead - the most technical person on a team who acts as a mentor/adviisor and works closely with the real supervisor
manager - I'm intentionally not using this term as it introduces the people vs project management discussions.
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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For my answer, I think it's interesting that all the people I talk to who thinks mentoring and supervising are virtually the same thing are managers/supervisors. It's like they forgot what it was like to have one without the other.

I think there is a distinction. A mentor is guiding and giving advice, but without authority behind it. A supervisor is responsible for another person. Mentoring is part of supervising but not the other way around. Hence my subset comment.

Of course, I'm more interested in other's comments!
 
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The person that I see as my mentor is definitely not my (or anyone else's) supervisor. He is an excellent programmer with great attention to detail, and also an extremely good sense of the big picture.

I don't know if he'd make a good manager - he certainly has the ability to communicate well. He seems a lot happier with his hands in the code, though.
 
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Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:He said at a certainly level, being a tech lead/mentor is essentially the same as actually being a supervisor



I agree with your colleague's statement.

IMO, the supervisor with direct reports is simply a formal structure but when it comes to practice, the scope of work and responsibilities might differ by a huge extent.

A mentor is guiding and giving advice, but without authority behind it


I don't think this is true in all the situations. A supervisor has greater authority. However, if the supervisor has a large team then (s)he can delegate the authority to the mentor.

Mentoring is part of supervising but not the other way around


I see it in a different way. A mentor may or may not supervise. A supervisor may or may not mentor.
 
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For me, supervisor is a position. But mentor is an inspiration which I'll never forget in my entire life.
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Srikanth Basavaraju wrote:

A mentor is guiding and giving advice, but without authority behind it


I don't think this is true in all the situations. A supervisor has greater authority. However, if the supervisor has a large team then (s)he can delegate the authority to the mentor.


Hm. I guess I see this has helping and hot actually holding the authority.

Srikanth Basavaraju wrote:

Mentoring is part of supervising but not the other way around


I see it in a different way. A mentor may or may not supervise. A supervisor may or may not mentor.


I think a GOOD supervisor does serve as a mentor though. Whether he/she calls it that or not.
 
Srikanth Basa
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In theory, we have a clear distinction between supervisor and mentor but in practice, the distinction is generally forgotten based on the organization structure, project requirements or for some other reasons.

Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:Hm. I guess I see this has helping and hot actually holding the authority.



By authority, if you meant the authority to evaluate and promote professional growth, it still lies with the supervisor. However, if a supervisor has 25+ reports, in such instances it would be impossible to keep a check on the day to day work (which could account for certain level of authority given to the mentor in getting the work done).

Jeanne Boyarsky wrote:I think a GOOD supervisor does serve as a mentor though. Whether he/she calls it that or not.


IMO, the supervisor should pickup another person as the mentor. If the supervisor himself/herself is the mentor then it could impact the performance of a mentee in the day to day activities.
 
Srikanth Basa
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Did a quick Google search and see this nice article - http://www.mentoring-association.org/membersOnly/Mentors/RoleMvsSupvr.html
 
Jeanne Boyarsky
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Srikanth Basavaraju wrote:Did a quick Google search and see this nice article - http://www.mentoring-association.org/membersOnly/Mentors/RoleMvsSupvr.html


Interesting read.
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