The Differences Between Coaching And Mentoring

Both these tools can be a very useful way of helping people to give of their best, but like any technique it is important firstly to get the definitions clear. Coaching and mentoring are not interchangeable terms.


Why are they different?

Coaching is not the same as mentoring. Mentoring is concerned with the development of the whole person driven by the person’s own work/life goals. It is usually unstructured and informal. Coaching is much more about achieving specific objectives in a particular way. Coaching is also more formal and more structured, usually around a coaching process or methodology.

Effective Coaching

  1. Both are volunteers
  2. The coach has some form of expertise to impart. That expertise might be related to a competence the coachee requires in their role or the expertise might be about helping the coachee to give their best.
  3. Expertise coaching is usually active/directive, centred on the coach having a view of what best practice looks like in a particular area and through a performance feedback loop gives the coachee ideas for improvement.
  4. The coach establishes a  current state awareness and a desired state outcome objective and then works with the coachee on closing the gap
  5. Passive/reflective coaching is something else. This kind of coaching is more about the coach asking such questions as ‘how did you feel about that?’ and ‘how could you improve that?’ This style is more an interactive process of self-discovery on the part of the coachee. Here the coach is using the skills of facilitator and explorer to help the coachee reach new levels of effectiveness.
  6. The two strands are not mutually exclusive but the objectives should be made clear before beginning around what kind of coaching is being requested/offered.
  7. Effective coaching is non-hierarchical and between equals. One is simply helping the other. Peer to peer coaching is the ultimate expression of this.


Effective Mentoring

  1. Both are volunteers.
  2. The Mentor has no executive, or direct-line reporting responsibility for the mentee. Sometimes they don’t even work in the same organisation.
  3. Both are getting ego satisfaction from the relationship. The mentor gets the satisfaction of watching somebody grow who values his or her insights. The mentee, a feeling of being valued and gaining regular ‘air-time’ with somebody who they respect and admire.
  4. The intensity of the relationship is matched. It is taking up actual and mental time in proportions both people are comfortable with. This can flex, as the mentee’s needs change. Sometimes, several meetings quickly in a very challenging period, then none for three months.
  5. There is no dependency. Neither party needs the relationship to continue, both are happy for it to continue but it could stop tomorrow. It can be very destructive where the mentor needs the relationship for status reasons, or the mentee needs it as an emotional crutch. There might be occasions where the mentee needs a ‘shoulder to cry on’ but that is event, rather than relationship driven.
  6. The mentee is not a protégé. It is not a teacher pupil relationship, nor does the mentee (necessarily) have the patronage of the mentor. An effective mentor gives wise counsel, and the mentee can talk about what they need to talk about, where they can test arguments and have tough questions asked of them.
  7. The mentor should not be mentoring two people at the same time from the same team.
  8. Discretion and confidentiality are paramount. Also, rules of engagement. Who knows about the relationship, some are public knowledge some not, as long as both are happy, it doesn’t matter which.
  9. The obligation for continuing or stopping is two-sided. The mentor feels they have value to add, the mentee is getting something from the relationship. Either side can end it without justification.
  10. If the mentoring practice is to become widespread, rather than extraordinary, the culture of the organisation needs to be a supporting one, as it does with coaching.
  11. Mentoring processes are about guidance and support.

Sometimes the line between Mentoring and Passive/reflective coaching can cross over.