As a coach, I often hear people blur the boundary between “coach” and “mentor” by using the words interchangeably. But while they are similar in ways, there are some distinct differences between coaching and mentoring. This article will outline some of the major differences between the two, in the hopes of alleviating the confusion.

Similarities between Mentoring and Coaching: Both mentors and coaches want to help their clients reach their individual and professional potential. In order to do this, most mentors and coaches:

  • Help clients explore their needs, motivations, skills
  • Set appropriate goals and ways to assess the client’s progress
  • Observe, listen and ask questions to understand the client’s situation
  • Encourage action and development for lasting personal growth

Differences between Mentoring and Coaching: While mentors and coaches share similar overall goals, the specific ways in which coaches and mentors achieve these goals are different:

  1. Structure and Process: Mentors are typically chosen by their clients because they offer a broad focus on professional and individual development. So, meetings with mentors tend to be discussion based, informal and focus on the client’s pace and schedule. Coaches, on the other hand, are typically chosen by the client’s organisation to help them develop a specific skill(s). Coaches typically offer a more structured process where the coach shares general and specific knowledge rather than providing personal experiences.
  2. Goal: Because mentors are generally mentee-appointed, the focus of development is usually broader and based on the experience of the mentor. In coaching, the objective is for the coach to help the coachee to come up with their own development solutions and action plans so that they can develop specific skills related to performance.
  3. Skills & Experience: Mentors have skills and experiences that directly relate to the goals of the mentee. Coaches on the other hand are skilled in coaching and not necessarily in the specific area of the coachee’s profession or goal.
  4. Length of Engagement: Although the length of time can vary in mentoring, it is often seen as a longer-term relationship (especially in career mentoring) as opposed to coaching, which is often time-limited. Because coaching is focused on improving particular skills or behaviours, coaching relationships are generally short-term with a set duration.

Roles of Mentors and Coaches
The role of the coach and mentor are also quite different:

Role of Mentor: Mentors share personal knowledge and experience in a two-way relationship based on mutual agreement between the mentor and mentee. Mentoring is often more advice-oriented and mentors typically give advice on career and personal development. With that in mind, the most effective mentors also use coaching techniques. That is, they take a structured approach, help set specific goals, explore options and use other coaching techniques.

Role of Coach: Coaches discuss specific and general professional skills (like decision-making) that require development. Because coaches don’t need to be experienced in the client’s area, coaches need to observe the client’s work behaviours so they can provide specific comments on execution and performance. Coaches are often hired from external agencies, making the coach-client relationship a more one-way relationship. But of course, the most effective coaches are open, listen, ask critical questions about attitudes, and set clear goals to help their client’s develop.

Author's Bio: 

Bill Lang is an educational entrepreneur (and an entrepreneur educator), author, coach and Skills Architect. As Principal of Human Performance Company, Bill helps businesses and individuals worldwide improve their performance and achieve their goals faster.
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