Coaching & Mentoring – 5 crucial differences you need to be aware of

The terms ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’ are often used interchangeably in a personal and organisational development context. This can make it incredibly difficult for anyone to understand what the key differences are – and make no mistake, they are different.

The reason the terms are used interchangeably is down to the fact that they do have a lot of things in common. Both require strong interpersonal skills, such as great listening and questioning styles, as well as the ability to give constructive feedback. Coaches and mentors alike, need to be able to check their understanding of any issues that a client may have, whilst also suspending any judgement for people involved. These skills ensure they’re able to solve problems, change behaviour patterns and help an individual learn and develop.

On the surface, it does therefore tend to look the like it’s a simple case of same role, different name.

But there are crucial differences between coaching and mentoring – and you need to be aware of these differences, if you’re looking to hire someone to help you in your personal and/or professional life.

#1: Coaching relies on the agenda being set by the client

A client goes to a coach, in order to achieve a specific goal, often one that’s tied into their career or business. They want to find their own way forward and they’re committed to a course of action to make that happen. Coaching therefore tends to be more task focussed than mentoring, with a focus on achieving specific measurable goals and/or skills.

Mentoring, on the other hand, is often directive and more transformational based. It can be based around a clients professional or personal life – as the two areas often interlink – or a balance of both. The mentor is providing specific advice where appropriate, and sharing their knowledge and personal experience, to help a client move forward and grow as an individual. It’s about helping the client become the best version of themselves, personally and professionally.

#2: Mentoring often takes a longer term approach

As coaching is performance driven and tends to focus on specific measurable results, it tends to be more of a short term commitment. The coach-client relationship can vary in length, between a one-off call, through to six months or so.

A mentor, on the other hand, is often hired to help aid personal and/or professional development. As a clients goals can’t always be measured, this impacts on the length of time a client needs a mentor for. The relationship between a mentor and client, is therefore based on a more long term basis (usually at least 9 months).

#3:  A mentor doesn’t have to be an expert in the area you’re dealing with

A mentor takes a facilitator role in the mentor-client relationship. This means they plan, guide and manage their client towards the solutions they need.They’ll often share their advice, knowledge and expertise with clients, in order to help illustrate processes, thoughts and tools, that can help make a difference to their client. A mentor doesn’t have to be an expert in the area they’re working on, as they’re learning and adapting to the needs of their client, and often finding solutions together.

A coach however, tends to be hired for their specific expertise and/or niche. They often have a set process for dealing with specific issues, ensuring they can help a client achieve a specific and measurable end result.

#4: Mentoring can have more of a spiritual component about it

Because coaching is based on specific, targetable actions, it has more of a practical and strategic element to it. When a client hires a mentor, they’re looking for a transformation personally and/or professionally. A mentoring session can therefore cover everything from values and beliefs, through to ethics and a clients view of themselves and the world at large. There is often a more spiritual component to mentoring, as a client is viewing the bigger picture of who they are, why they’re here, and how they can fulfil their potential.

#5: A mentor can also be a coach – and vice versa

Some trainers call themselves a coach and a mentor – and there’s a good reason for this. Part of what you’re paying for is the ability to pick their brains and learn from them, and you want to do so, in a way that is most appropriate for you.

Being able to be both coach and mentor to clients, enables them to help you find  the best solution for you. For some, that may mean helping you find answers within yourself, and for others, that may require guiding you through what has worked and failed for others in the past.

Often, the terms coach and mentor are used interchangeably, without any clear indication of the differences between them. However, there are trainers, mentors and coaches that love the freedom afforded them in knowing the differences – and then actively picking the best solution and role for each of their clients.

By knowing what those crucial differences between the two are, you can ensure you’re hiring the best solution for your needs. I think the CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development) summarised those crucial differences between a coach and mentor, beautifully  – a coach has some great questions for your answers; a mentor has some great answers for your questions.

If you are considering coaching and mentoring, and perhaps looking for advice on how to choose a great VA Coach or Mentor, then our blog “How to choose a VA Coach or Mentor for you” might help you determine the important pieces to you.