Coaching Vs Mentoring: A Simplified Guide

Coaching and mentoring is often used interchangeably and it seems they mean the same thing. This is both right and wrong. Sounds confusing?

Because it is! If you google ‘Coaching vs Mentoring’, you will find many results and they can be confusing. I mean it.

Coaches can be mentors and mentors can also be coaches. But there are a lot of differences between coaching and mentoring.

I have made this guide to tell you how coaching and mentoring are different and how they are similar. This guide is not an attempt to prove which method is better. That is because coaching and mentoring often work together. And yet, they can be done independently.

What is coaching and mentoring?

Coaching and mentoring have many definitions and meaning. I believe that in both cases, there are few things that always remain the same;

– A person has a goal

– They need to reach from Point A to Point B to achieve this goal

– They need support during this journey

Whether this individual takes support from a coach or a mentor, depends on many things. If you need to discover the journey from Point A to Point B by exploring yourself, then you should choose a coach. Choose a mentor if you want instructions and lessons from previous experiences.

Mentors are like role models. Coaches are like experts who impart knowledge and skills.

This is a very simple way to look at coaching vs mentoring.

A mentor guiding a coding student

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Coaching vs Mentoring – Definitions

Let’s take a look at some definitions;

‘Coaching is a developmental process by which an individual gets support while learning to achieve a specific personal or professional result or goal.’ – Loraine Kennedy

‘Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.’ – John Whitmore, in Coaching for Performance

John Whitmore has also explained what mentoring is;

‘All the experts appear to agree that [mentoring] has its origins in the concept of apprenticeship, where an older, more experienced individual passed down his knowledge of how the task was done and how to operate in the commercial world.’

‘A mentor is a more experienced individual willing to share knowledge with someone less experienced in a relationship of mutual trust.’ – David Clutterbuc

Read: Managing vs. Coaching vs. Mentoring

Coaching vs Mentoring

Coaching involves awareness of self. It focuses on making positive changes in behaviour. These help the individual grow and get better. Coaching involves learning that is one to one.

It is a very personal form of learning, usually for a short duration.

Mentoring on the other hand, is usually for a longer duration. You can have more than one mentor. They share their knowledge and experiences to help them the mentee in their development. A mentor has higher experience and knowledge than the mentee. Mentors share valuable insights from their experiences.

These insights help the mentee avoid potential problems. The chances of failures are less because you will have a mentor to guide you on your journey.

A coach, on the other hand, helps you discover yourself and understand your hurdles. A coach is there to pick you up if you fall and help you understand how this can be a positive experience.

Coaching is time-bound and based on a plan. Mentoring is long term, often informal and is very flexible.

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A coach is usually an expert in a particular field, because of which they can coach people. Mentors need not be experts in any specific field. They are usually people who have a lot of knowledge and experience.

There are many fields like management and leadership where mentors are more common. But this is changing. Teachers have instructive coaches and managers have executive coaches.

People are different and they respond to different methods of growth and development. Some people learn through mentoring and some people grow with the help of coaching. Choosing whether you need a coach or a mentor depends on the type of development and growth one is seeking.

Read: What’s the Difference Between a Coach and a Mentor?

Coaching vs Mentoring – differences in roles of coaches and mentors

Let’s take the example of sports such as cricket or football.

A sportsperson has an upcoming match and they feel the need to improve their sport. They hire a coach who will help them train and prepare for the event. This coach understands the goal and vision. Together, they come up with a plan to achieve their goal.

The coach pushes for the sportsperson to become better than they were before. This coach is an expert in that field of sport. They would train the sportsperson and get them ready for the upcoming match.

Compared to a coach, a mentor here could be a person who has more experience in playing that sport. They would have played many matches in their career. They will know what it takes to be a good player in that sport.

They’ll know the insider tips and tricks of the trade. They will share their experiences and guide the sportsperson in their career. A good mentor will provide encouragement and can also give counselling. They will be able to help the sportsperson achieve a level of maturity in that sport.

Ideally, the role of the coach will end when the match is over. A mentor takes this sportsperson under their wings and help them soar high.

So what is a better choice in this example? Coaching or mentoring?


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If the coach had not trained the sportsperson, they might not have won. A mentor helps the sportsperson find meaning in that win. A mentor helps the sportsperson figure out how they can proceed after this match in their career.

Both coaches and mentors play a huge role in different parts of our lives. Both help us grow and develop so that we can live a better and fulfilling life.

Often, coaches and mentors also need each other! A coach can have a mentor, who would be a coach with high experience and life learnings. This mentor will have the coach become a better coach.

A mentor can have a coach too! This coach will help a mentor learn how to become a better version of themselves. They the mentor find meaning in their experiences. They can then share their learnings with mentees.

Read: Coaching and mentoring employees by BrightHR

Coaching vs Mentoring – Key Differences

Coaching is often short-term. It is taken up on a need basisMentoring is often long term and looks at the larger career of the person
Coaching is often to correct behaviors and provide skillsMentoring provides long-term support and guidance
Coaching is one-on-oneMentoring can be in a group with many mentors
Coaching has a narrow focus on tasks and projectsMentoring has a broader focus on personal development as a whole
Coaching is based on asking purposeful questions that will help in self-reflectionMentoring is based on providing instructions, suggestions and guidance
Coaching is about open-ended questions and helping people seek their own solutionsMentoring is more directive and involves specific questions that will provide direction
Coaching needs a high level of trust and confidenceMentoring needs a strong relationship and connection
Coaching usually has a formal setting and a structured paceMentoring is more informal and meetings can happen at less-formal locations
Coaching provides expert skills and knowledge for maximum personal developmentMentoring gives people insight into their industry and opportunity for networking
Coach is usually responsible for setting the pace and aiding in learningMentees have the responsibility to start learning opportunities
Coach is someone who is a subject matter expert in a particular fieldMentor is someone who has a high level of experience and exposure to the field
Coaches focus on learning and developmentMentors act as a sounding board

Read: Know the difference between coaching and mentoring

Coaching vs Mentoring – How different is it from counselling and training?

One can get confused between coaching and mentoring. It is easy to feel that coaching and counselling can be the same thing. Or that mentoring can be the same as training.

It is true that all these terms have some common goals, such as individual development. But training and counselling are very different from coaching and mentoring.

Training is when there is a transfer of skills from one person to the other. In training, there is a transfer of knowledge. The aim is to build the capacity of the person receiving the training.

Counseling focuses on addressing personal issues that will help a person grow. The American Counseling Association explains counselling as a process that empowers individuals to accomplish mental health, wellness, education and career goals.

Read: Organisational Mentoring vs Organisational Coaching

Coaching vs Mentoring – Example

Let’s take an example of an employee who has recently finished their education and joined a new company.

When they join, they will receive training in the form of ‘onboarding’. This training transfers all the skills and knowledge that this employee needs to do a job well.

But of course, a new job, especially if in a new city, can be very challenging. A new job brings new expectations. The demands of a new job might lead to stress. A counsellor will help this employee to deal with new changes in life and manage stress.

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Now, this employee has dreams to be successful and their goal is to be an executive. They can seek help from an executive coach to reach their goals. This coach helps them find their strengths and opportunities available to them. This coach will also help them develop abilities to achieve their goals efficiently.

This employee would have sessions with an executive coach. During these sessions, they may identify a senior executive as a role model in their company. This person has a lot of experience and knows the tips and tricks of the trade. This senior executive is ready to be a mentor and provide guidance. They will share their experiences with this employee. They will help them understand the life of an executive.

In this example, all four methods of learning come together to make one person’s become what they want. All these methods help this person grow and develop themselves at one stage of their life or other.

It is also possible for these four roles to overlap. For example, a coach can do specialized training programs for the employee. A mentor can also conduct trainings. This mentor may also help in stress management. A counsellor can teach them speaking skills so that they can be a better executive. A coach can counsel the employee if they are finding it difficult to have faith in their abilities.

When we think about coaching vs mentoring, it is easy to think that a coach can only be a coach. Or a mentor will only play the role of a mentor.

So, different people can play different roles. But within coaching and mentoring, there are many different roles and types.

Read: Mentoring Versus Coaching: What’s the Difference?

Types of Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching vs Mentoring – Types of Mentors

Anthony Tjan is the CEO of Boston venture capital firm Cue Ball Group and author of Good People. He has listed 5 different types of mentors.

  1. The master of their craft
    A mentor who is an expert in their field, a master of their craft. They know all the tricks of the industry. They have years of experience which will help you go faster through a learning curve
  2. The champion to your cause
    A mentor who is a champion to your cause. They help in gathering resources and networking. They’ll introduce you to people who can support your passion. They will talk to you and talk to others about you.
  3. The copilot
    Tjan uses another term for this; your best work buddy. This type of mentor is usually a peer who works along with you and advises you about your work and career. This type of mentorship is complementary in nature.
  4. The anchor
    A mentor that will work as an anchor for your life. This type of mentor also serves as a sounding board. They can be your friends or family. Since they have your best interests at heart, they can look at the larger picture and guide you
  5. The reverse mentor
    A relationship where a mentor learns from the person they are mentoring. You get the opportunity to get good feedback on your teaching style. Plus, you get to learn many new things from mentees who are often from a younger generation than you.

Tjan also noted that it is possible for a mentor to fall into two or more categories together.

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Coaching vs Mentoring – Types of Coaches

Similarly, there are different types of coaching that address specific needs of individuals.

  1. Executive Coach
    An executive coach aims to develop the top management employees of any firm. The main purpose of an executive coach is to improve business performance
    I have recently made a
    list of top 6 executive coaches that you must follow, I’m sure you’ll find it useful
  2. Life Coach
    A life coach helps people grow and develop themselves to be the best they can do. It attempts to address any problem you may be facing in your life so that you can reach your greatest potential.
    I have written a beginner’s guide to life coaching. This will help you understand the features of life coaching.
  3. Performance Coaching
    A performance coach works towards help you perform better at work. They help you find reasons for your dip in performance and fix them.
    I have written in-depth about performance coaching before.
  4. Dating Coach
    As humans, we seek fruitful connections with other human beings. A dating coach focuses on people’s dating life. They help people find meaningful relationships.
    Do read my comprehensive guide on being a dating coach!
  5. Health and wellness Coach
    Maintaining good health and wellness is hard work! Health coaches understand their clients’ needs. Then they enable the clients to live a healthier lifestyle.
    I’m sure you will find my guide on health and wellness coaching very useful.

These are not the only types of coaches. There are many more forms of coaching, be it for sports, skills, personal life or for business sector.

Coaching vs Mentoring – must have abilities for effective coaching and mentoring

Both coaches and mentors are leaders. They help others around them grow and develop themselves.

Gina Kawalek is a Senior Marketing Manager. She has made a list of some competencies for the next generation of successful leaders.

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  1. Maintain high ethical and moral standards
    People look up to coaches and mentors. They must have high levels of ethical and moral standards to coach and mentor people. If they have these standards, they generate trust, respect and loyalty.
  2. Communicate clearly and listen attentively
    Any plans you have as a coach or mentor can fail if you are not clear. For both coaching and mentoring, it is important to set expectations and provide feedback. Proper communication also requires active listening skills. It is not enough to say, ‘I hear you’. One must go beyond this and hear what the individual is trying to say.

  3. Demonstrate respect and trust
    Coaches and mentors should encourage individuals to think freely. If the individual is always afraid of failing their coach or mentor, they would not grow. It is important to show that you trust them so that they feel confident to take action and make progress.
  4. Make room for flexibility
    Goals are important for both coaching and mentoring sessions. The coach or mentor and the individual should agree on a plan. But certain situations can have unexpected outcomes. So the leaders must be flexible. People worry that changing track is a sign of weakness. It is the opposite. When the situation changes, the coaches and mentors need to change their approach. This shows maturity and confidence on their part.
  5. Create conducive environment
    Good environment and opportunities are needed for growth. Good coaches and mentors ensure the individual has good opportunities. An innovative environment makes room for achieving high levels of growth and development.
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Coaching vs Mentoring – some tips to be as a successful coach or mentor

Whether you’re a coach or a mentor, these easy tips will help in being successful in your sessions;

Build Connections

Success in a coaching or mentoring session depends on trust and respect from both sides. When you make someone comfortable, a connection is formed. A relaxed posture and positive attitude are very important when you begin your sessions.

Clear expectations

It is always good to clear and precise about the results you want to achieve through your sessions. Ask about what are the exact things they want you to do. Understand the support you will need to make their sessions a success

Specific goals

I cannot stress this enough. Whether you are a coach or a mentor, you need a good and clearly defined goal. It is easy to get lost on the way and lose hope. Having a clear and specific goals helps in staying on track.Motivate Enough

Recognize strengths

If a person wants to achieve to the best of their potential, they need to use their strengths. Many individuals are unaware of their own strengths and capacities. Being a coach and a mentor means that you identify the strengths that will help them achieve their goals.

Observe sufficiently

You must have good observation skills to recognize changes in moods and behaviour. Changes in body language tells a lot. They can provide excellent feedback about the health and progress of the person.

Measure results

Every plan needs to have intervals at which we can check the progress and measure the results. This way, we can check if we are on track and if not what changes can we make to improve

Motivate enough

Everyone needs motivation. But coaching and mentoring sessions can be difficult. It is not easy to find answers. Recognize the progress and remind them about how far they have come along.

Praise often

Everyone loves praises! Be sincere and highlight how they can be better. Praises work as a gentle nudge and helps in keeping people motivated enough to move forward.

Provide simple feedback

The simplest way to provide feedback is to talk about what was good and what could be improved. Your feedback should be specific with examples. It is best if the feedback sessions are face-to-face. That helps in building a bond and it becomes easier to accept the feedback.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is the difference between mentoring and coaching?

Coaching and mentoring are both valuable forms of support that can help people achieve their goals. However, they are different in their focus and approach.

What is the key difference between coaching and mentoring?

Coaching is more goal-oriented and usually focuses on the present and future, while mentoring tends to be more relationship-based and looks at the past as well. Additionally, coaching is typically more action-oriented, while mentoring may involve more advice-giving.

What are the similarities between coaching and mentoring?

Both coaching and mentoring involve providing support to someone in order to help them achieve their goals. Coaching and mentoring both involve giving advice and feedback.


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