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Coaching vs. Mentoring - What's The Difference?

  • POSTED ON JULY 26, 2023
the differences between coaching and mentoring

In the business world, the terms coaching and mentoring are used to capture a broad range of behaviors where managers and instructors help to improve the skill set of their employees. Knowing the key differences and definitions of coaching and mentoring can help you define what it is that your company could most use and deploy those skills appropriately. It can help you know when your employees need a coach vs a mentor. 

Misconceptions About Coaching and Mentoring 

Many people have significant misconceptions about coaching and mentoring, most notably that the two are inherently interchangeable and basically the same. A lot of people think that what starts as a coaching relationship will inherently flow into a mentorship if the relationship is good, and vice versa. While this is true for some relationships, those are very much the exception rather than the rule.  

Coaching takes place over a shorter and more limited period of time and targets specific skills, whereas mentorships can take place over the course of years or decades and address the trajectory of a person’s career rather than a specific skill set. This means that the results you will get from each are extremely different kinds of growth, despite utilizing somewhat similar toolsets. 

A lot of people also believe that mentors or coaches act as work therapists for their clients or mentees. While a good mentor or coach has to pay attention to how the person they’re helping is feeling, that doesn’t mean that their primary focus is the emotional well–being of their clients. Mentors and coaches are focused on the career and skill growth of their clients, respectively, and attuning to their emotional well-being helps them do that, but it is not the primary focus. 

The Key Differences Between Coaching and Mentoring 

Now that we’ve covered what mentors and coaches don’t do, let’s move on to defining what they do.  

What Does a Mentor Do?   

A mentor is there to help their mentees to develop both personally and professionally in their careers. This crosses barriers from getting the emotional skills to cope with their work environment to building confidence and everything in between. However, mentors are there primarily to point the way toward the correct positions on the compass as you navigate rather than to hold your hand as you do it.

Mentor and Mentee Relationship 

A mentoring relationship, or mentorship is a long-term relationship that spans years or decades. Mentorships are very rarely paid in any way, with the mentor mostly benefiting by continuing to develop their professional network by nurturing young, new talent. These relationships are voluntary rather than mandatory and tend to require the mentee to reach out for regular help and communication, as experienced mentors will frequently have more than one person that they are mentoring to different degrees and at different stages in their careers.

    • Duties: A mentor’s primary drive is to guide their mentees to be the best they can, to advise and support them in their growth. A mentor comes to a mentee with a deep personal understanding of the field and teaches their mentee to understand their challenges as someone who has already faced many of them. Long-term, they help their mentees to plan a path that fits their existing talents and establishes new talents down the road.  

Benefits of a Mentor

A good mentorship increases confidence in the mentee, develops norms of professional communication and leadership, and exposes them to new perspectives. A good mentor also inspires their mentees to be the best they can be.

What Does a Coach Do? 

A coach, on the other hand, is a subject matter expert who is deployed specifically to improve how a person works with regard to that skill set in a shorter period with much more hands-on involvement. 

Coach and Client Relationship

A coaching relationship is inherently structured and time-limited. Because of that nature, it is also tailored to specific outcomes for the coaches' clients. While developing trust and understanding of the client is necessary to do good coaching, it also is incredibly targeted to the things that interfere with what the coach is trying to communicate.

    • Duties: A coach supports clients in specific development areas and helps to prioritize areas within their skill set for improvement. They break down the end skill goal into a series of steps. A coach will help you to understand the gaps between the skills you need, the mindset you need, and where you are now.  

Benefits of a Coach

The benefits of a coach are much more straightforward: up-skilling employees in a shorter period of time than they could do on their own. There may be other benefits, but they are ancillary.

Making The Most Out of a Coach or Mentor 

In order to make the most out of a coach or mentor, there are certain things that should be present. The first is trust between parties and a keen sense of respect, driven by a desire for improvement and a desire to possess the skills and knowledge of the instructor. Without this, results will be limited. 

The second is an awareness of self, which enables an open discussion with a focus on career progression, helping you to tell your coach or mentor what you need. They are an experienced individual there to help, so an open discussion is needed for them to help you as best they can.

Becoming an Effective Coach or Mentor 

If you are thinking about becoming a coach or mentor, there are skills that can help you beyond expertise in your subject. Clarity around the scope of your work with your colleague or client will help you to do your job more effectively, and that will come through developing deep listening skills, which can only come from a genuine investment in your clients or colleagues. 

Simultaneously, you need to maintain humility without false modesty even as you’re given a position of authority. There is no quicker way to lose a student than to overstep the bounds of your relationship, micromanage where it’s not needed, or overstate your qualifications. And lastly, patience is key. You cannot rush results. 

Ground-Breaking Coach Training Courses 

Are you looking to develop the skill set necessary to be a successful life coach? We have additional resources available. As the largest coach training organization worldwide, we offer professional, rigorous coaching programs to mold you into an effective, certified coach and leader. Learn more about how our professional coach training programs can help you invest in yourself. 

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Co-Active Training Institute (CTI)

Since 1992, CTI has been working with coaches and leaders around the world, helping them navigate toward stronger relationships, integral solutions, and creating meaningful impact in the world. The work we do goes beyond training. Through ground-breaking teaching methods and a global network of world-class faculty and partners, the Co-Active difference delivers contextually relevant and experiential learning that ignites transformation and a life-long journey developing the deepest expression of leadership in each human being.

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