Understanding the difference between coaching vs mentoring

Understanding the difference between coaching vs mentoring

At some point everyone finds themselves looking for support in their business, career, or life journey. And when you do, you’ll also have to learn about the differences of coaching vs mentoring. Even if you’re not there yet, there might come a time when you do need some support, so bookmark this page!

These two words might seem synonymous, they’re sometimes even mistakenly interchanged. And there is a lot of overlap and similarity between them. However, there are nuanced differences between coaching and mentoring to consider before enlisting help from one or both types of professionals.

While both are commonly employed within organizations to enhance employee engagement, it’s increasingly common for individuals to seek learning and development on their own. In fact, coaching is a career path that has grown in popularity over the past few years. Meanwhile, mentors can be guides within any industry, and many people are starting to capitalize on that new need for guidance through mentorship programs.

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Being a mentor or a coach means the opportunity to help others reach for high potential. And both roles require a number of specific skills. The goal is to benefit the individuals being coached or mentored as well as their organizations and even the facilitators.

This blog will dive into the distinctions between coaching and mentoring, as well as the benefits of mentorship vs coaching. But first, let’s define them both so we’re working with the same definitions of a mentor vs coach.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is typically someone with the experience and wisdom to share with others who might be looking to learn from someone more senior. It’s a less formal role than coaching might be. Coaches are usually hired to achieve specific results. A mentor, on the other hand, is a person who shares their wisdom with another to support their growth and development. Mentoring relationships are typically, though not always, formed with the intention of career development. And a mentor is someone in your industry or on a similar career path.

An example of a mentor outside one’s career might be a teacher, guru, or spiritual guide. Traditionally mentors have been paid to offer their knowledge/expertise. But now many entrepreneurs are cashing in on demand for mentors. They’re doing so by adding mentoring opportunities to their offerings. While some organizations are adding mentoring programs to support their employees, their growth, and job satisfaction.

career development

What is a coach?

Unlike mentoring, which frequently exists within already established workplaces and hierarchies, coaching does not require the same structure. But what coaching does require is a certification for those offering professional services. Coaches can become certified by organizations like the International Coach Federation (ICF.) The ICF defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” And they help train potential coaches to make sure they are certified and have the knowledge to be effective for their clients.

Coaching relationships are more transactional than mentoring relationships might be. And they are usually formed with specific goals for any area of one’s life. For instance, there are financial coaches, career coaches, relationship coaches, fitness coaches, and more. But what makes for an effective coach is the ability to balance. They have to balance what a client is experiencing, while encouraging them to reach their full potential. This is what makes coaching so special and something that can become a business where people sell online coaching.

mentor vs coach

Difference between coaching vs mentoring

There are slight differences between coaching and mentoring. We’ll cover them below.  

Commitment

Mentoring tends to be on a longer-term basis and functions more like a relationship. While coaching is more of a short-term relationship. Of course, this isn’t always the case. Mentoring can be short and sweet. And clients can always make the decision to extend their coaching sessions.

Goals

The aim or focus of coaching sessions is decided upon by the client and facilitated by the coach. A mentor, on the other hand, might provide more of a guiding hand. And share relevant experience and opinions on certain subjects.

Format

Coaching can sometimes be more structured. The sessions come in the form of consistent, regularly-scheduled meetings. Whereas mentoring is generally less formal. Coaching is also nondirective. Meaning the coach co-creates or collaborates with clients to guide them in their life. Often they do this by asking open-ended questions and sharing facilitation techniques. Mentoring, on the other hand, is more experience-based chatting. It can consist of delegating their information like offering guidance through direction and advice.

Expertise

Most frequently a mentor is a member of the same industry or field of study as their mentee. Or they at least have firsthand experience in the field. But no formal training or qualifications are required to be a mentor. But coaching is the opposite. Certification is required while firsthand experience isn’t always. Coaches also tend to have their own specific areas of expertise. For instance, you wouldn’t hire a fitness coach to help you reach your financial goals.

Formality

Mentorship relationships are more casual. Because mentors typically aren’t paid, they can be more casual and more conversational. Mentors and mentees might meet over coffee or chat while on a walk. But coaches have a more formal relationship with the people they coach. They probably have a laid-out plan and take notes each time they meet. And likely have a set meeting scheduled with their clients.

Outcome

Coaching is performance-driven and, for that reason, can have more specific and measurable results. Mentoring, on the other hand, is development-driven and therefore it can be more difficult to measure the progress that comes from coaching.

Of course, there are always exceptions to these generalities. You might find a mentor who is more formal in their approach. Or a coach who has a general focus rather than a specific area they coach people in. But both are in demand and can be deeply valuable for the people involved.

mentoring programs

Benefits to mentoring and coaching

There are clear benefits to mentoring and coaching. Everyone benefits from different teaching styles so it makes sense that some would find more value in a coaching relationship while others might want a mentor. The flexibility of both styles is key. But all sessions ideally hold individuals accountable and encourage their growth and development. They also enhance interpersonal skills and relationship-building across the board.

When deciding whether mentoring or coaching is right for you, focus on your goal first. You might want to set an intention, then see if coaching or mentorship aligns best. You can always shop around for a coach or mentor. It should be a good fit for you, your goals, and your needs. Plus, your mentor or coach needs to feel like it’s a good fit too.

average life coach

FAQs

Are coach and mentor the same thing?

No. Coaches and mentors play different roles with the people they work with. A mentor is usually someone in your field who has wisdom and experience to impart. Plus it’s usually a much longer-term relationship for those involved and can span many years. Being a mentor also doesn’t require any kind of certification and isn’t usually paid. While coaches are usually paid for a set period of time and need a certification which is one of the bigger differences between coaching and mentoring.

Can you combine coaching and mentoring?

Yes. Because of the inherent overlap, namely helping others reach for high potential, a coach might offer mentoring techniques, while a mentor might offer coaching techniques. To make these subtle differences even more complex is that, in today’s demand for both approaches, there can be slight variations among styles of mentorship vs coaching, leading to a lot of exceptions and similarities between the two. There are infinite benefits to mentoring and coaching, as either or both can be very supportive teaching styles for different individuals.

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Katie Davidson

Katie Davidson, Katie is a freelance writer, copy coach, and certified yoga teacher currently based in California. Her work has been published on ELLE.com, InStyle.com, StyleCaster.com, and more. She has also been featured as a yoga expert on POPSUGAR Fitness. When she's not writing (or practicing her handstands), you can find her somewhere on a beach, cacao-chai latte in hand, with her beloved pup Toby.

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