Coaching or Mentoring?

Differences of Coaching or Mentoring

I am sometimes asked to define the differences between coaching and mentoring. Some people use the term coaching and mentoring interchangeably. Some writers define mentoring as a longer relationship with a more experienced person. I guess you can compare a mentor to Yoda. Sir John Whitmore states that true coaching takes the trainee beyond the limitations of the coach’s knowledge. Coaches don’t have to have knowledge of the field they are coaching, though it may help them ask the right questions. However, having a limited knowledge of the trainee’s field may require the coach to ask basic questions to understand the trainee’s situation. Such questioning raises the awareness and options for the trainee. At this point I would strongly suggest that you, as a coach, do not give examples from your own experience to show empathy. It is about your trainee, not you.

In professional coaching practice we don’t offer advice or tell the trainee what to do. Coaching concentrates the trainee on the best strategies to achieve their desired outcomes. The role of the coach is to help the trainee or client discover where their process and thinking is going wrong and then correct it. It is about challenging their model of the world and helping them fit a new pair of glasses.

As I suggested before, you could limit your coachee by your own limiting beliefs and your own model of the world, which is another reason not to make suggestions. Consider this, if you are making suggestions you may be formulating plans in your mind about actions the trainee could take, if you are doing this you will not be listening to what the trainee is saying, instead you will be pushing your own agenda.

The mentoring of junior and middle managers may involve answering questions such as, “how do I get noticed and promoted?”, whereas an executive might be asking how they can develop or build a leadership team or “What do I want from my life/career?”.

Mentoring usually involves a longer-term relationship, whereas coaching is a shorter-term relationship to achieve specific outcomes and learning.

The mentor will usually have knowledge and experience to impart. Mentoring of senior people requires the mentor to have a strong understanding of business, ideally from having had success in a similar role. The mentor may still use coaching questions to challenge the mentee. They may offer advice or disclose similar situations from their own career. When I started my first session with someone who was starting their own business, I asked them if they wanted me to mentor or coach them. They wanted a mentor and we identified areas of opportunity they could market themselves in and how much they would have to charge for their services.


This is from Steve’s book Become a Great Leader and Coach using NLP