Coaching vs Mentoring: What’s the Difference?
Hattie Pursell
6 minutes
April 4, 2024

Coaching and mentoring both exist for the same purpose: helping others grow, develop and reach their full potential. Both coaching and mentoring give the opportunity for individuals to take responsibility for their own personal and career development.

They form an intrinsic part of your people development, in particular, both practices are essential in corporate leadership training.

Given that the two frequently get grouped together, it can feel like an ‘either or’ decision for organisations. But there are a number of key differences between coaching and mentoring, so it’s important to see them as separate things and understand how they can work together.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll explore the unique coaching techniques and diverse mentoring programmes that differentiate these practices, including: ‍

  • How are coaching and mentoring different?
  • What is a career mentor?
  • What is a career coach?
  • Key elements of mentoring
  • Key elements of coaching
  • What does this mean for my organisation? ‍

Coaching vs mentoring – the core differences

Understanding the differences of leadership coaching and career mentoring is crucial. Let’s look at the purpose: The purpose of coaching is usually centred on achieving highly specific goals, whereas mentoring is adaptable, the purpose can change and is often more about holistic development.

Let us consider the definition and elements of both coaching and mentoring:‍

What is a mentor?

A mentor is someone who can guide, advise, and support you to be the best you can be in your career. They take time to understand you and the challenges you’re facing and then advise you based on their understanding of the problem and their personal experience – with the aim of helping you towards your goals.

The benefits of mentoring include; increasing self-confidence, developing communication and leadership skills, and gaining exposure to new perspectives. As a result, those with mentors are more likely to feel inspired and motivated to progress in their careers.

This is what makes it an essential part of corporate leadership training. Mentoring is a great way to identify and develop future leaders, managers and high-potential employees.

While the best mentors will bring elements of coaching into their sessions, there are key elements of mentoring that are different to coaching.

What is a career coach?

While there are a number of different styles of coaching and types of career coach, ultimately a coach is someone who can support you in specific personal or career development areas. They may identify and prioritise improvement areas, break down your end goal into smaller goals and work with you to shape and grow your mindset.

Career or executive coaches help you understand yourself better, improve your mindset and equip you with the skills to handle future challenges and situations.

Another comparison between coaching and mentoring, is that coaching is typically more structured and tailored to specific outcomes, as opposed to general personal development. This more formal structure is also a result of coaches charging for their service, unlike mentors. The structured nature of coaching makes it a great addition to your corporate leadership training, as you can target specific areas to up-skill you current and future leaders.

📖 Find out more about the different types of coaching in our guide 📖

Key elements of mentoring

  • Long term

Mentoring opportunities often lead to long-term mentoring relationships, fundamental in shaping career paths. Mentorships, have the potential to last a lifetime if they result in friendship. Even if you initially get a mentor to support you with a specific goal, once you have that connection with someone you may reach out to them again in the future. Mentoring tends to be longer-term than coaching partnerships due to its personal and informal nature. Executive coaching, in contrast, offers a more structured environment tailored to professional growth.

  • Voluntary

Typically, mentoring is voluntary. Whether the mentoring takes place informally through personal networks, or formally through a company mentoring programme, there is rarely an expectation of payment for the mentor’s time. Both parties are dedicated to the personal development of the mentee, and the process is also highly rewarding for the mentor. Mentoring succeeds because mentors like to ‘give back’ or ‘pay it forwards’ and understand that mentoring is also beneficial for them.

Mentors find their jobs more meaningful and less stressful than those who do not mentor, and have also been found to be more likely to get a promotion.

  • Advice & guidance

The role of a mentor is to listen, learn, and advise. It is about pointing their mentee in the right direction and aiding their career development. The difference between coaching and mentoring in this regard is that mentoring is a softer and more relationship-focused form of guidance, as opposed to a structured training approach coaching often takes.

  • Mentee driven

In mentorship, the mentee is responsible for driving the sessions and steering the relationship. A common misconception is that a mentor will tell you exactly what to do and shape you into a more successful person, but the opposite is true. A mentee must be dedicated to their own development and utilise their mentor to help them achieve their goals.

  • Mentor advises based on personal experience

Due to the personal nature of mentoring, a mentor will often draw on their personal experiences and expertise to help advise their mentee. This could be in the form of sharing a story that taught them a valuable lesson, or a challenge they overcame in their career. In corporate leadership training, this first-hand advice can help the mentee to navigate power structures and progress within their organisation or industry. This kind of personal dialogue is welcomed and encouraged in a mentoring relationship. Another key difference between coaching and mentoring.‍

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The coaching vs mentoring debate illustrates distinct approaches, highlighting the unique coaching and mentoring comparison. Here are some of the key elements of coaching that differ from mentoring:

Key elements of coaching

  • Short term

Coaching partnerships are more short-term than mentoring relationships, due to the fact that they are objective-driven and more structured. Someone may seek out a coach to help them develop a specific skill or work through a particular limiting belief. The coaching could well end once that skill or objective had been acquired.

  • Training & Up-skilling

As opposed to advising and guiding, coaching focuses more on training and up-skilling to help you develop a winning mindset. A coach can help increase your self-awareness by identifying areas for improvement and challenging assumptions that may be preventing you achieve your goals. Coaching is often used in corporate leadership training to develop key skills, where they may train you in the art of questioning to equip you to manage others better or identify limiting beliefs about yourself.

  • Coach drives the sessions

Unlike a mentorship, a coach is more likely to drive the sessions than the client. While the client will naturally have input and is taking responsibility for their development by undergoing coaching, there is less expectation for them to run the sessions. NB: this may differ depending on the style of coaching.

  • Coach does not necessarily discuss personal experience

A coach is not obligated to discuss anything personal. In fact, there’s a high chance they have no experience in the industry or role that their client works in. However, they will have expertise in specific areas, such as leadership training or coaching agile teams. This is a key difference between coaching and mentoring, where mentors would draw on their experience and knowledge to give advice.‍

How can I use coaching and mentoring in my organisation?

Implementing coaching and mentoring in the workplace is an invaluable way to create a culture of continuous learning and development. As you can see from the above lists, coaching and mentoring are not the same thing. However, they’re also not worlds apart.

Similarities of mentoring and coaching

Both coaching and mentoring are methods of developing individuals and they hold similar values at their core. They can both be used in corporate leadership training, up-skilling and providing targeted support to your people in different areas. Implementing coaching and mentoring in your organisation can support your learning and development goals in different ways.

It is a journey where the process of learning is as important as the knowledge and skills gained” (Zeus and Skiffington, 2000)

In both coaching and mentoring, there is:

  • Trust between both parties
  • A desire to develop
  • Knowledge sharing
  • Developing self-awareness
  • Discussion of goals
  • Exposure to new ways of thinking
  • Skill development
  • Focus on career progression
  • The unlocking of someone’s potential

And so the relationships are underpinned by many similar principles.

Once you understand the similarities and differences between coaching and mentoring, you can see how they are able to complement each other as development practices.

For example, as an organisation, you may want to encourage people-focused personal development and implement a company-wide mentoring programme. Yet you could also provide a specific corporate leadership training option to your managers, and so provide them with coaching sessions or mentoring with high-performing senior leaders.

The effect of this two-pronged approach to coaching and mentoring is highly valuable. Those managers who have undergone coaching will also make very good mentors to other individuals in your organisation. When you consider that 89% of mentees go on to be mentors, you can create a ripple effect culture of learning and development within your organisation that has people at its core.

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What's next?

Whenever you’re ready… here are 3 ways Guider can help you supercharge your L&D with mentoring:

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