Management & Leadership

Coaching and Mentoring: The Distinct Differences

Nov 05, 2020 | By Saranne Durham
The Difference between a Coach or a Mentor

You want to take a leap in your life – advance a step forward towards obtaining a specific goal and you know you need some support to do this. Do you want a mentor or a coach and how do you go about deciding who to work with to help you get to where you aiming to be?

“Mentoring and coaching have distinct differences.”

Coaching and mentoring can both be very effective techniques. But, while the terms “coaching” and “mentoring” are often used interchangeably, there are in fact some quite distinct differences between the two.

What is a Mentor?

A mentor assists a less experienced person by providing motivation, guidance, emotional support and insight into a particular field in which they are experienced. Essentially a mentor is a trusted advisor who keeps the person’s best interests in mind when they are advising them while modelling positive behaviours. It’s usually a longer-term relationship and can be professionally or personally focused or even both.  A good mentor is someone who doesn’t want to produce a clone of themselves, but rather is enthusiastic about their mentee’s goals, respectful of their abilities and willing to champion for their success. Therefore, mentoring is development driven, looking to open your horizons through commitment to learning goals.

“Mentoring is development driven, focused on the longer run.”

What is a Coach?

A coach is someone who assists you with the here-and-now. Their role is to support you to improve performance (career or personal) in the shorter run. Coaching doesn’t focus on the distant past or future. As such, coaching is performance driven and usually entails short term goals that are actively worked towards so as to achieve a specific aim. A good coach is someone who dynamically assists their client to learn – believing that the individual has the answer to what they need but that they may need help finding the way forward. John Whitemore in Coaching for Performance states that: Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them. The key question a coach will ask is “How?” and their continual objective will be to raise your competence and improve your skills.

“Coaching is performance orientated, focused on the shorter run.”

How to Choose a Great Mentor

The right mentor must be someone who you “fit” with – it’s a bit like shopping for a pair of shoes, there lots of styles and some are comfier for one person than another. It could take a while to find a mentor that you feel comfortable with, but figuring out who you can work best with upfront is worth the time and effort in the longer term.

Aside from being enthusiastic about you, as well as being able to create a strategy that focuses on maximising the advantages of your talents and skills while pushing you to be a better you, a mentor needs to value learning. Ideally a mentor is an expert in their field. While you looking for a mentor, listen to how someone talks. Are they respectful in what and how they talk about people and situations? A great mentor needs to listen to what you saying as well as give you good feedback in a way that’s honest, helpful and constructive. If someone is going to help you successfully step out of your comfort zone – you need to understand what they proposing and feel secure following their advice.

“Mentors value learning and seek to maximise the advantages of your skills and talents.”

Often a good mentor is someone that you could see yourself being friends with – so remember to ask yourself “Would I want to be friends with this person?

How to Choose the Right Coach

While a coach does not need to be an expert in your field, they do need to focus on you and helping you to unlock your potential. They must believe that you have the answers to your challenges and with guidance you will be able to overcome them. Coaching can be done on an individual or group level (peers, colleagues or superiors). As coaching is performance focused, when choosing a coach ask them about their track record. You need someone who is results orientated and has successfully delivered with past clients. Ask them about their training and what qualifications they have – an overlap in experiences doesn’t mean they are the right coach for you and someone who qualified years ago but never brushes up on things is unlikely to be in touch with the latest strategies for the best way forward.

“Coaches are results driven.”

10 Differences between Coaching and Mentoring:

1. The Relationship

  • Mentoring: To be really successful, the mentor and mentee need to develop “rapport”. For instance, often they even become friends.
  • Coaching: “Rapport” is not as important as “partnership”, although the client needs to be comfortable with being “open and honest”.

2. The Duration

  • Mentoring: An ongoing relationship that can last for a long time.
  • Coaching: Short-term and sometimes time bounded.

3. The Structure

  • Mentoring: More informal, with meetings taking place as and when the mentee needs guidance or support.
  • Coaching: Generally, more structured in nature and meetings will be scheduled on a regular basis.

4. The Agenda

  • Mentoring: The mentee sets the agenda. Thereafter, the mentor provides support and guidance to prepare them for future roles or specific development.
  • Coaching: The agenda is set by the client and is focused on achieving specific, immediate goals.

5. The Scope

  • Mentoring: Revolves around developing the mentee professionally, particularly regarding his or her skills and their application to the specific work context.
  • Coaching: Revolves around specific personal development areas or issues, perhaps related to behaviour, attitudes or self-awareness.

6. The Focus

  • Mentoring: More long term and takes a broader view of the person.
  • Coaching: Focused on specific current development areas or issues.

7. The Roles

  • Mentoring: Heavy on listening, role modelling, making suggestions and connecting.
  • Coaching: Non-directive: allowing the client to lead the way and access their own internal resources to forge the way ahead.

8. The Experience Needed

  • Mentoring: Mentor has more experience within the organisation, and is able to give the mentee a “big picture” view of the latter’s role therein.
  • Coaching: Coach does not need to have direct experience of the client’s formal occupational role.

9. The Tools

  • Mentoring: Hardly use diagnostic tools.
  • Coaching: Frequently use profiling to, as this offers alternative insights. This includes 360-degree feedback, personality questionnaires, etc.

10. The Goals

  • Mentoring: To broadly develop the mentee in all areas; used when a company wants to create a workforce that balances the professional and the personal.
  • Coaching: To achieve specific, immediate goals; used when a company is seeking to develop is employees in specific competencies.

So, Coaching or Mentoring?

Essentially a mentor has some great answers for your questions and a coach has some great questions for your answers. Both mentors and coaches have much to offer. Therefore, whichever path you decide to embark upon, enjoy the investment in yourself as you move towards obtaining your goals.

Are you interested in learning more about coaching and mentoring, and how these skillsets can be used to craft the leaders of tomorrow? SACAP offers a range of coaching courses, including the two-year Post Graduate Diploma in Coaching, and the five-month Coach Practitioner Programme. To find out more, enquire now

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