What’s the Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching?

8 07 2010

I want to spend some time this week looking at the difference between coaching and mentoring, as this has come up a few times with coaching clients recently.

As a Certified Leadership Coach there have been occasions where my clients present their personal/professional challenges and expect me to tell them what to do.  They have confused the role of coach and the role of mentor – something which is very easy to do.

Let’s consider the academic definitions of the two first:

“Mentoring is the process for the informal transmission of knowledge, social capital, and psychosocial support perceived by the recipient as relevant to work, career, or professional development; mentoring entails informal communication, usually face-to-face and during a sustained period of time, between a person who is perceived to have greater relevant knowledge, wisdom, or experience (the mentor) and the person who is perceived to have less (the mentee)” Bozeman, Feeney, 2007


“Coaching is a partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The coach’s job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources, and creativity that the client already has.” International Coach Federation, 2010

The differences between Coaching and Mentoring:

Some of the key differences are:

Mentoring Coaching
Focuses on the individual and the organizational context. Focuses upon the individual and their wider context.
The mentor is normally selected by the mentee The Coach often is given a specific agenda (usually to improve performance)
A mentor provides directional guidance, teaching and sometimes coaching through the mentoring process A coach uses open questions through the coaching process
The mentee develops their capabilities and often anecdotally their skills The mentee develops their skills and capabilities.
The relationship is driven by the mentee The relationship is driven by the coach
The mentor helps you with solutions The coach helps you to see where you went wrong

In essence a mentor is like a sounding board, giving advice which the mentee is free to pick and choose from, and in some instances giving coaching advice to the mentee. The context does not have specific performance objectives.  A coach however, is helping the person to some end result, the person may choose how to get there, but the coach is strategically enabling, assessing and monitoring their progress.

So, when considering whether or not you need a coach or a mentor ask yourself what you really need here.  Do you trust yourself as a Leader to be able to find out the answers to your challenges yourself with some help, or would you prefer someone else to tell you?

For more information about our coaching and mentoring services give Michelle a call today on  07786 622344 or email info@creative-leadership.co.uk.




3 responses

8 07 2010
Steve Mills

Good subject…and no real right answer as it’s all very well in principle Michelle but in practice it rarely works like that and the line is blurred by both mentor and mentee & coach and coachee; particualrly as reltionships develop over time.

Always best practice to agree the framework in advance, avoiding confusion as time progresses.

8 10 2010
Lance T. Walker

Michelle, I find your assessment of the difference between mentoring and coaching to be quite accurate, for the most part. I think the reason the two are so easily confused is that real mentoring includes a coaching aspect, whereas one can be coached without necessarily being mentored.

So the first key difference you mentioned, context, I believe should be the reverse – coaching focuses on the narrow, or organizational context (life coaching being the clear exception), while mentoring focuses on improving the mentee’s wider overall perspective.

As a career coach, I often find the occupational challenges of coachees are directly tied to wider life issues and questions, suggesting that a more comprehensive approach that I refer to as life coaching or mentoring. Therefore, context has become the main factor in my determining where the line is drawn.

24 09 2013

thank you for the information 🙂

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