What is the difference between coaching and mentoring?

In Greek mythology, Mentor was a friend of Odysseus, and was in charge of Odysseus’ son Telemachus, when Odysseus left for the Trojan War. Since Mentor parted wisdom and advice to Telemachus, his name later became a synonym for guidance and tutoring, in the English language.

Back in our times, mentoring and coaching get easily mixed up. Many people today take the role of coaches, but what they actually do is mentoring the client. On the other hand, a big part of Mentoring involves coaching as well.
So what is the difference between coaching and mentoring? Is there a difference at all?

Glad you asked, let’s check it out.

Mentoring

Telemachus and Mentor

Telemachus and Mentor

A mentor is someone who has “done it before”. He is the expert and he holds experience and knowledge on the field which the mentorship focuses on. A mentor would usually have the answers to questions that are being asked by the client, and would give advice that will help the client grow and understand more.

The relationship between the mentor and the client would probably go beyond the meetings and usual conversations. A mentor might introduce his client to his known associates if he thinks that the client would grow from such encounters. A mentor might also tell the client what the next steps should be in order to develop further.

Coaching

A coach is someone who does not know all the answers. Moreover, the coach does not assume that he knows more than his client. In a coaching relationship, the client is the expert on his own life.

To ilustrate this concept, one of the basic pillars of the Co-Active coaching method (which i’m practicing) is that “people are naturally creative resourceful and whole“. Besides the obvious meaning, this also means that people are not broken. There is no need to fix them. The client is the one with the answers, and the only help needed, is showing the client how much he knows.

The coach is there to guide the client, and enable him to look inward and see that the answers were there the entire time. He asks powerful questions, and gently both he and the client uncover a direction or a solution to what the client wants to help and guidance in.

Similarities

The similarities between coaching and mentoring are far greater than the differences. As there are many, below is the list of similarities I consider to be the major ones between coaching and mentoring:

  • Both coaching and mentoring enable exploration of individual desires, needs and capabilities to enable a real change in the client’s life
  • Both methods use questions in order to stimulate thought and decision processes to uncover desired solutions and actions
  • In both mentoring and coaching, the coach/mentor observes the client and listens to him, in order to understand the situation from his point of view. This is also being done so the coach/mentor would be able to identify with the feelings that the client feels in that situation
  • Both coach and mentor set appropriate goals together with the client
  • Both methods develop and maintain accountability, and induce commitment on the client’s part to achieving the set goals
  • Both methods encourage and maintain an attitude of personal growth and development from the client
  • In both methods its vital that the coach/mentor would be non-judgmental towards the client’s views, opinions and lifestyle, and separate the coach’s/mentor’s personal agenda and views from those of the client.
  • Both coach and mentor need to keep a supporting and positive attitude towards the client, and be on his side
  • Both coach and mentor are required to manage the relationship with the client, to ensure that the client does not develop an unhealthy dependence with the coach/mentor
  • Both coach and mentor evaluate the success of the goal achieving process, and continuously check whether the goal has been achieved

 

Differences

There are several main differences between coaching and mentoring. These include the below:

Mentoring Coaching
A mentor is knowledgeable in the client’s field A coach may not possess any knowledge in the client’s field
A mentor hears the client issues and gives advice A coach doesn’t give advice. The answers come from the client itself
A mentor can only work in a field he has experience in, since advice which is given needs to be solid A coach can coach on any field, since the client is the expert
Mentoring is long term and can last up to 9 months Coaching is generally performed in shorter periods of several months
Mentoring usually requires design prior to the beginning of the relationship Coaching does not require prior design. It can help in any field
A mentor might also become friends with the client A coach is not the client’s friend. All though supportive and helping, he is there to help the client objectively

 

Bottom line

Mentoring and coaching are not the same. All though they have more similarities than differences, they are two different things. The main difference is in the interaction between the coach, the mentor and the client. While mentoring parts advice and suggestions, coaching assumes that the client is the expert on his own life, and the coach helps in guiding the client to find those answers inside him.


I hope the post helped in understanding the difference between Mentoring and coaching. If you feel I left out something important, or have a story to share, let me know about it in the comments below!

 

8 thoughts on “What is the difference between coaching and mentoring?

  1. hi Ido!
    What an interesting article about mentoring and coaching! First of all, I had no idea that Mentor was from the Greek mythology! And second of all, I can now see the differences between the 2. As you stated, they certainly have a lot of similarities but differences are present. As I was reading, I could not help but associate the mentor relationship with the “sponsorship relationship” in groups such as AA or NA. At least, to me, it seemed similar. But coaching is more client focused. Or maybe a better term is client led. I think both types of relationships have their purpose, depending on what the client is looking for.

  2. This is a very interesting article. I have always assumed that a mentor and coach is exactly the same thing. You go to great lengths in explaining the two and their differences. This really is an eye opener to me. I would not say either is better than the other because from what I understand is that the mentor is an expert in his field and really can give the best advice however the coach shows you how good you already are and just helps to bring out what you already have.

    Thanks
    Helen

    • ido

      Helen, you nailed it!
      I don’t think I could have said it better myself.
      A coach shows you that you already know what to do, and that you already know all the answers.
      A mentor would give you a good advice that would probably move you forward, and further your growth.
      I do believe however, that decisions that come from within ourselves, has much more power to motivate us, and get us the results we want in our lives.

  3. Gin

    Very nice post. Didn’t realize these differences before. Do you think religious help is considered mentoring or coaching? Say, someone who needs spiritual support and seeks that from a church? I was just wondering if the help the church provides was more mentoring or coaching.

    • ido

      Thanks, Gina.
      I think that church provides both. The differences are very subtle between the two. I guess that some people prefer to have someone they feel has a lot of experience tell them what is the “best” course of action, while others might feel better with a small nudge, and guidance in the right direction. If the man which gives the help is sensitive enough, he would be able to tell what is the right help to give

  4. Very informative article. I always thought coaching & mentoring were the same thing. I’d have to say in my life I’ve been coached more than mentor. I was an academic mentor in college & it was a rewarding experience.

  5. Hi Ido,

    Thank you for making the distinction between a mentor and a coach.

    From your post above, I reckon that it might be more challenging to find a mentor than a coach.

    And I have a question : If I were to build a sustainable business, am I right to say I should be looking for a mentor who has “walked the talk” rather than a coach?

    Would appreciate your feedback. Thanks!

    • ido

      Choosing between a mentor or a coach depends on your outlook of things.
      I believe both would help you in building a sustainable business. If you are more comfortable with talking to someone who could give you concrete advice, than a mentor would be your choice. If you feel like you just need the push, and maybe clear your mind on the right path to take, then a personal coach would be excellent.

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