Mentoring and Coaching: What is the Difference?

Understanding Five Differences between Mentoring and Coaching

People often speak of Mentoring and Coaching as being the same. To add to this confusion, a person may become a life coach because of a desire to “mentor” others. However, Mentoring and Coaching are quite different and to confuse these terms can produce negative results.

mentoring and coaching

For clients to receive the greatest benefit, it is important for the client, coach &/or mentor to be clear about the differences between mentoring and coaching. With a clear distinction, a service provider would understand the expectations of the client and assess if they are the right person for that client.

For comparison, “the person” owning a Ford, Chevrolet, or Chrysler would receive the required service from a general auto repair facility(a professional coach), but the owner of a Ferrari would want a very experienced person with intricate knowledge of Ferrari’s (a professional mentor). For this reason, it is especially important for coaches and mentors to understand what their skills and offerings are.

While the difference between Mentoring and Coaching is clear, they can and do co-exist successfully, when the provider can competently handle the requirements of the client.

Here are the important distinctions and differences between Mentoring and Coaching.

Difference between Mentoring and Coaching #1 - Power & Influence

Coaching Is a Leadership Process

In its most powerful form, coaching is about leadership where the coaches’ focus is to help the client explore what they want and the client’s process to achieve their goal. Coaching is called a leadership process as the coach works to bring out the self-leadership skills in the client. In this context the coaches’ beliefs, ideas and experience need to take a back seat to those of the clients (not so in mentoring).

mentoring and coaching leadership

For the skilled professional leadership coach, it is important to stay out of the client’s way so not to influence the client, but to allow them room to construct what it is that they want. If the coach presents their “model of the world” it is then difficult for a client to distinguish between their ideas and those of the coach. A skilled coach is an expert in the coaching process, in coaching exploration. A coach does not need to be an expert in a particular field they coach in. As a matter of fact, it can be a liability, as then the coach has preconceived ideas and beliefs which easy can be shared influencing the client.

Mentoring Is an Expert Process

A Mentor is an accomplished expert in the field. “I have been on your path and am successful, do what I say, follow me, and you will also be successful.” The mentor holds the expert position in the mentor relationship, instructing, telling and challenging the client. The mentor is also responsible to some extent for an outcome, as they are telling the client to follow them. With personal coaching, this is not the case, as with coaching, it is always the client who is responsible.

Difference between Mentoring and Coaching #2 - Scope

Coaching is specific

coaching skills and techniques

Life coaches, regardless of their specialty (i.e., career, relationship, wellness, etc.) generally focus on very specific and concrete issues such as time management, strategy building, and plan development. The coach guides their client through the process of naming goals, requirements and specific steps the client can and will take to move closer to the goal. The coach and client often work together for a finite time until the client has reached their goal.

Mentoring is about the Big Picture

Mentoring can be more about relationships, and the big picture and less focused on specific goals. Mentoring focuses on relationship requirements and environmental issues. What relationships and environments need to be cultivated to achieve the big picture goals in one’s life? Particular goals and achievements are explored, but the step by step process is not usually a focus.

Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching #3 - Duration

Coaching Is Short-Term

Successful coaching (depending on the client’s goal) can be completed in as little time as just a few sessions. Most coaching relationships require one to three months; some may last a bit longer; however, once the client has reached their goal, the coach/coachee relationship ends. An exception to this is if the client wants to contract with the coach to help them achieve a different goal.

Mentoring Is Long-Term

As Mentoring usually focuses on the big picture or lifetime goals/career objectives, often they are long term relationships. Mentoring also requires time for both partners to learn about each other and build the container in which the mentoring can take place. Once accomplished, the mentee can feel secure in sharing deeper issues that are part of achieving success in that particular area. Mentoring relationships often last months and frequently many years.

Difference between Mentoring and Coaching #4 - Time

Coaching = Performance

The general purpose of coaching is to help guide the client to improved performance in a particular area of their life. The client might determine they need to hone new skills or improve skills they already have to reach their goal, or the client may decide they need to change their lifestyle or perspective. Once the client has achieved whatever goal they set for themselves, the coaching relationship ends.

Mentoring = Life Journey

Mentoring helps develop an individual for current tasks as well as helps prepare them for any future opportunities that may present themselves to the client. In short, mentoring is development driven while coaching is performance-driven.

Mentoring and Coaching Difference #5 - Process

The Immediacy of Coaching

Coaching can occur immediately. It does not usually require research, planning, and design. A client can contract with a coach to work with them on the topic of the client’s choice, and the coaching can begin right away. Skilled coaches are trained in the “coaching process” to help keep the client “on task” both in the coaching conversation and in their work towards achieving their goals. Similar strategies are used in all coaching, regardless of subject matter.

Mentoring Requires Design

Mentoring requires determining the strategic purpose for the mentoring itself. A preliminary or development phase can be needed. Questions to explore before the mentoring can begin might include: What are the clients and mentors values? If different can they co-exist in harmony? What is the style, attitudes and personality of the mentor and is that a good match for the mentee? What different kinds of access does the client have to the mentor? Often the mentor relationship is much closer and requires much more frequent interaction between the mentee and mentor.

Difference between Mentoring and Coaching Conclusion

No one is ahead when they hire a coach or a mentor and do not receive the kind of support or help they require. For the person armed with the knowledge contained in this article, they can move forward and interview for the service provider that will most effectively help them achieve their goals. A person will be able to choose whether their situation could benefit more from coaching or mentoring or a coach/mentor (provider of both services).

For the coach and mentor selling their services understanding the differences also saves them the discomfort of taking on the wrong kinds of clients. Coaches and mentors both want the same thing; create an environment for their clients to thrive and attain their goals.

Mentoring and coaching are both extremely beneficial processes. Especially when the coach &/or mentor/mentee have a clear understanding of what their respective roles are. With this understanding, all parties can move forward confidently creating a powerful relationship.

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