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The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring

Updated: May 12

What is the difference between coaching and mentoring? Considering an answer to this question is a helpful lens through which to understand what coaching is and is not. In turn, this helps us to contrast the potential benefits of each approach.


The role of the coach is to facilitate a person’s learning, development, well-being and performance. In contrast, the role of mentor is to offer support, to guide and to share their experiences with a client.


In other words, coaching can be seen as a tool for drawing skills/knowledge from within a person, whereas mentoring can be seen as giving skills/knowledge to a person.


Both coaching and mentoring are useful methods for developing the capabilities of senior leaders. They can both deal with similar issues (for example if a person is stuck in an ineffective working pattern), but approach them in different ways. Both aim to help the client towards change and personal development.


An Example to Demonstrate the Difference


A common problem discussed by both coaches and mentors is that the client is struggling to deal with a working relationship. For example, they might be finding it hard to get the best out of a direct report who they consider to be underperforming.


If you were to be a fly on the wall of a mentoring conversation you might hear things like:


“Let me tell you about a time when that happened to me...If I was you I would...Have you tried this technique?...Can I recommend you listen to this podcast...What if they are underperforming because they are in the wrong role...I think you are doing a good job with this because...You need to try harder to solve this or the consequences might be…”


If you imagine this is a relationship with rapport and trust, where the mentor has experience and credibility, this advice could be tremendously helpful. But it is limited. And it is only framed around the problem to be solved.


Now imagine you are a fly on the wall of a coaching conversation, you might hear things like:


“Tell me more about this issue....What is it that is causing tension now?...How important is this to you? What I am hearing is that {summarises} makes you feel...Tell me more about that...So what are the options for actions here?...Which of those options feels the right one for you?...When will you take that action?...”


In this conversation, the coach is asking open questions, probing the reality of the situation and challenging the surface level explanation of the problem. By going deeper, in a structured way, the client finds their own solutions to their problem, which truly work for their context, but in the process they also learn more about themselves, which enables better decisions in the future.


Get in Touch


I am happy to work with clients both as a coach and as a mentor. Please get in touch if you would like to know more, or book an introductory session online.





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