Difference Between Coaching And Mentoring




There are probably a thousand different definitions of coaching, and how you define it somewhat depends on your perspective on the day. I’d like to give two examples: One is to raise awareness and responsibility of the coachees, to assist them with their progress, productivity and performance. Some people focus their definition on the coach’s rules and behaviours. I don’t believe in such a tight definition in that way. I would go the other way and say that coaching is being appropriate for the circumstance and the individuals in the moment, in order to facilitate them to move forwards in whatever way they want to.


The mentor uses his or her knowledge and experience of the job, and say quite specifically, ‘This is how it works here.’ To be a mentor you need to be an experienced person in the field. To be a coach that experience can be a disadvantage as it could tempt you to steer or advise your coachees towards what you think is the solution rather than help them to find their own.

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Coaching is a unique relationship where a special conversation takes place about you. It’s a unique way to relate to people conversationally that brings out their best, a way of empowering them to say what they’ve not said, dream what they’ve not dreamed, get what they’ve not got. You do use direct communication (which is different from directive communication). For example, ‘I hear you want to write that book, but I’m not convinced by your energy – what’s that about?’ If I was being directive, I’d say, ‘If you want to write a book you’ll have to discipline yourself to write three hours per day, etc.’


Mentoring is working with someone where you are modeling how to do what you do. So for a high-level manager, it’s about sharing the ins and outs of becoming that position. A coaching mentor can use coaching skills and offer possibilities to the client: ‘This is how I do it’, not, ‘This is how you should do it.’

Coaching enables the client to be the best they can be in the areas they choose to focus on. Typically the client meets with the coach in a one-to-one confidential partnership. The client chooses the focus of the conversation and the coach works with them by listening and contributing observations and questions to help them clarify their understanding of the situation and move them into action to progress towards their goals. (The client brings the content; the coach provides a process, which can apply in any context.) Coaching accelerates the client’s progress by helping them to focus on where they want to go, become aware of blocks, attitudes and aptitudes that affect their choices and by supporting them in developing strategies to achieve their goals. Ownership of content and decisions remains with the client throughout.

Mentoring In the mentoring relationship the client seeks out an individual with more relevant experience who will help fast-track the client through the organisation/industry/profession. The mentor will give advice within the context based on their experience and the relationship is typically ongoing over a long period of time. Mentoring uses some of the same skills as coaching and the process is similar, except that the individual receives guidance from the mentor. The relationship is one of the experienced person passing on knowledge and skills to the individual, who accepts these and decides what to use to help in their own situation. The focus of attention is more on the mentor passing on their wisdom, although based on the individual’s agenda.


● Coaching relates primarily to performance improvement (often over the short term) in a specific skills area. The goals, or at least the intermediate or sub-goals, are typically set with or at the suggestion of the coach. While the learner has primary ownership of the goal, the coach has primary ownership of the process. In most cases, coaching involves direct extrinsic feedback (i.e. the coach reports to the coachee what s/he has observed).

● Mentoring relates primarily to the identification and nurturing of potential for the whole person. It can be a long-term relationship, where the goals may change but are always set by the learner. The learner owns both the goals and the process. Feedback comes from within the mentee – the mentor helps them to develop insight and understanding through intrinsic observation (i.e. becoming more aware of their own experiences).

Much of the confusion arises because the skills of mentor and coach overlap to some extent. Elsewhere (Clutterbuck, 1998), one of the authors has identified four styles of coach: these can at their simplest be described as tell, show, suggest and stimulate. Coaches in stimulator style are behaving like a mentor – using their own experience to ask questions that lead learners to their own insights and conclusions, helping them to develop their own wisdom their own experience. But mentors also have a number of other roles to play, which are typically outside the coach’s remit. They help the learner to build wider networks, from which to learn and influence; they act as sounding board and counsellor, responding to the individual’s need for emotional support; and they act as adviser and, frequently, role model. Most of these behaviours and roles are not appropriate or relevant for coaching – for example, the professional psychologist, who has no experience of being at the top of a business, would not want to be a role model or sounding board on strategy for a chief executive. Such helpers, with their depth of professional understanding, can often be a much better source of help in focusing on specific behavioural performance improvements than the elder statesman coach who has been there and done it. Our intention with this book has been neither to contribute to the confusion about what is and isn’t coaching or mentoring; nor to impose our own views of the distinctions between the two roles. Amore productive approach, we feel, is to view coaching, mentoring, counselling and other developmental functions as occupying relatively flexible areas of developmental space. In early work by Clutterbuck (Everyone Needs a Mentor, 2nd edition, CIPD, London, 1992), two dimensions were identified. Directiveness refers to where the power lies in the relationship and how it is managed, while the need dimension refers to whether the relationship focuses primarily on helping the learner with rational or emotional issues. Each quadrant provided a base camp for a particular developmental style or role.

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