Coaching or Mentoring – what is the difference and which is right for you?

One thing I have learned during more than 30 years of my own professional learning and development, and the time I have spent working in national roles as both a coach and mentor, is that the skills and tools of coaching and mentoring, do indeed have lots of similarity and there are many useful cross-overs that will support the development of expertise in both.

During this blog I will aim to provide you with some clarity around the differences, with the aim of helping you to decide which of these (or both) would be of most use to you.

What are coaching and mentoring?

If we start with definitions, then coaching could best be described as “the facilitation of the learning, development and performance of another”.

Whereas mentoring could best be described as “the supporting, advising or training of someone younger or less experienced”.

One of my favourite statements to distinguish between the two is that a coach will have great questions for your answers, whereas a mentor will have great answers to your questions. So, when it comes to the development of people and performance and whether a coach or mentor is best placed to support you, consider the following…

Coaching vs Mentoring

In summary, coaching is (in most cases) often a relatively short-term relationship and one that is generally more formal and very structured. It is often focused on the development of a particular area or to address a specific issue, which is often related to the development of relationships or the improvement of performance in role. Coaching sessions focus on achieving specific, immediate or short-term goals and developing a strategy to work towards any longer-term goals.  Unless the coaching is specific and skills focused, the coach does not need to have experience or in-depth knowledge of the coachee’s job role or industry. You can be a very successful coach in a field of expertise that you have very little or no experience of.  In the sports world I coach high jump athletes using my knowledge of fundamental movement and biomechanical efficiency to develop their skills and become world-class athletes. However, in the business world, I have had great success in coaching a number of CEO’s, MD’s and strategic leaders, across of range of industries even though I have no experience in their roles and job specific skills and knowledge.

Mentoring tends to be a much longer-term relationship that is built on mutual trust and respect.  It is likely to be less formal but relies on a requirement of the mentor being highly skilled and with more extensive experience compared to the often younger and less experienced mentee.  The mentoring tends to be driven by the mentee with the mentor providing support and guidance to prepare them for future roles, helping them along their chosen career path.  A workplace mentor is often a senior person in the organisation who can pass on knowledge, experience and open doors to otherwise out-of-reach opportunities.

So, which one is for you?

There is no doubt and great evidence that both coaching and mentoring are incredibly valuable approaches in the development of  of people and performance.  In order to decide which approach will be most useful to you, requires you to consider the aims of the desired outcome.

If you would like to explore coaching and mentoring further and develop the skills to perform these roles, either in yourself, or member(s) of your team, please join me on one of the up-and-coming CMI Level 3 Coaching & Mentoring courses, where I will be facilitating 6 half day workshops.

For more information on this course visit our management qualifications page.

About the Author: Graham Ravenscroft

Graham Ravenscroft
Graham is Gateway HR & Training's Lead Performance Coach. He has over 30 years' coaching and mentoring experience in the worlds of sport and business and is considered 'World Class' by many. He holds a Level 5 IAAF Elite Coaching Diploma and a Level 5 CPCAB Diploma in Stress Management.