Coaching and mentoring

One of the most frequent questions that prospective students ask, is: “What is the difference between a coach and a mentor… between coaching and mentoring?”

While both are used as professional development tools and most of the skills required are similar, the structure and the outcome of coaching and mentoring are decidedly different.

Definition of coaching and mentoring

According to the International Coach Federation ( coaching is used when partnering with a client in a thought-provoking and creative process – a process that inspires the person to maximize his/her personal and/or professional potential.
When defining mentoring, it may include coaching principles, but has an added dimension in the fact that it is done by someone who is (at the same time) an experienced and trusted advisor.

That’s why ( defines mentoring as: “And employee training system where a senior or more experienced individual (the mentor) is assigned to act as an advisor, counselor, or guide to a junior or trainee. The mentor is responsible for providing support to, and feedback on, the individual in his or her charge.”

Both coaches and mentors do their work based…

  • on their industry expertise (e.g. banking, health care, manufacturing),
  • on position expertise (e.g. marketing, finance, human resources),
  • on skill sets (e.g. spokesperson, committee chair, conference presenter) or other valuable expertise that can enhance an individual’s or professional’s life.

Differences between coaching and mentoring

Both coaching and mentoring can be very effective strategies. The terms “coaching” and “mentoring” are even sometimes used interchangeably. Yet there are quite distinct differences between the two.

A coach is someone who assists you with the here-and-now. Their role is to support you to improve performance (career or personal) in the shorter run. Coaching doesn’t focus on the distant past or future. As such, coaching is performance driven and usually entails short term goals that are actively worked towards so as to achieve a specific aim.

A good coach is someone who dynamically assists their client to learn – believing that the individual has the answer to what they need but that they may need help finding the way forward. John Whitemore in states that: “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them. The key question a coach will ask is “How?” and their continual objective will be to raise your competence and improve your skills.

A mentor assists a less experienced person by providing motivation, guidance, support and insight into a particular field – one in which that they themselves are experienced. A good mentor is someone who doesn’t want to produce a clone of themselves, but rather is enthusiastic about their mentee’s goals, respectful of their abilities and willing to champion for their success. Therefore, mentoring is development driven, looking to open your horizons through commitment to learning goals. They advise and model positive behaviours. They value learning and maximises the mentee’s skills and talents.

Within this broader framework some of the differences between coaching and mentoring can then be better delineated:

  1. In the mentoring relationship the focus is on rapport and a more personal connection. In the coaching relationship, however, is on a partnership within an open and honest atmosphere.
  2. A mentoring relationship is an ongoing relationship that can last for a long time. In coaching the focus is on a short-term (and sometimes time bound) relationship.
  3. Contact between a mentor and mentee is usually more informal, with meetings taking place as and when the mentee needs guidance or support. In coaching the sessions are (generally) more structured in nature and meetings are scheduled on a regular basis.
  4. In mentoring sessions the mentee usually sets the agenda. Thereafter, the mentor provides support and guidance to prepare the mentee for future roles or specific development. In coaching sesions the agenda is set by the client and is focused on achieving specific, immediate goals.
  5. Mentoring revolves around developing the mentee professionally – particularly regarding his/her skills and their application to the specific work context. Coaching revolves around specific personal development areas or issues – often related to behaviour, attitudes or self-awareness.
  6. Mentoring is a m long term process and takes a broader view of the person. Coaching is focused on specific current development areas or issues.
  7. The role of the mentor is more focused on listening, role modelling, making suggestions and connecting. The role of the coach is more n on-directive: allowing the client to lead the way and access their own internal resources to forge the way ahead.
  8. The mentor usually has more experience within the organisation, and is able to give the mentee a “big picture” view of the latter’s role therein. The coach does not need to have direct experience of the client’s formal occupational role. He/she uses a process that can be utilized in most settings.
  9. While mentors seldom use diagnostic tools, coaches frequently use profiling to, as this offers alternative insights. This includes 360-degree feedback, personality questionnaires, etc.
  10. The goal of a mentor is to broadly develop the mentee in all areas that needs mentoring. The goal of a coach is to achieve specific, immediate goals in order to develop is employees specific competencies.

So, which is best: Coaching or Mentoring?

Both mentors and coaches have much to offer. Therefore, whichever path you decide to embark upon, it will give you the tools to effectively mentor and/or coach people to enhance their performance. And to find more fulfillment in their work or lives.