The Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring


The obstacles someone is facing trying to navigate the modern business world are very different than the challenges our parents had to overcome. The dynamics that the market requires now, the high standards and the shift in culture are impacting everyone. Our environment is changing, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it is required of us to adapt well. Even when we have the best conditions and support, that change can come at a cost. Nowadays more than ever people are facing the fact that they need help – a confession that should be praised. However, admitting that you need someone to guide you is just the first step. Figuring out what is the best option for you is a completely different, equally difficult, issue.


There are various methods and approaches you can choose. The most common ones found in the business world of today are coaching and mentoring. Although often used interchangeably, they are quite distinctive. There is no better or worse, you just need to figure out what is the best solution for you and your present situation.

What are the characteristics of a coach?

Let’s start with the first term – coaching. Although it seems the same as the term used in sports, there aren’t as many similarities as one might presume. Coaching is also a much less familiar term since mentoring has penetrated the market a bit earlier. This is also one of the reasons many people confuse the terms.


The role of a coach, both business and personal, is to help you overcome a particular issue you are facing. That issue can be regarding a certain task in business, challenge with your overall performance, or some soft skills problems you are facing in your personal life. Let’s give you a couple of examples. A coach can help you with the challenge of stage freight, low sales performance, and poor time management. Coaching happens more often in the business environment, but it is no stranger to personal life as well.


Coaches aren’t people that you are expected to form a close bond with. They use a specific methodology and they follow a structure while working with you. Coaching sessions are time-bound, during a designated time frame and usually happen during a specific and limited time period. This means that you might have coaching sessions for 60 minutes, once a week, for a period of 6 months.


One important thing to point out is that a coach doesn’t have to know anything about your issue, area, industry or the department you are working in. This is because their role isn’t to give you answers but to use a certain methodology, one they are very skilled in, in order to help you get to the answers yourself. Even if they do know what is the correct choice, they can only guide you through the process – you need to make the decisions yourself.


This also means that your coach can be someone younger than you, with less experience in your area of expertise, but with much more knowledge of the techniques and methodology in order to help you reach your goals.

In comparison, what does a mentor do?

Let’s begin with the similarities. The role of a mentor is also to facilitate your growth and development. Both of them are your partners on your journey to further develop yourself, overcome obstacles and reach even further. They will surely have a positive and profound impact on your life, but first, you need to know what you are looking for.


How is a mentor different from a coach?

The main difference is in the type of relationship that is created. Mentors aren’t present for limited periods of time, only focused on a specific goal. A mentor is a more experienced individual whose strengths lie in your desired area and who is willing to share their unique combination of skills, knowledge and experience with their mentee.


The relationship formed during a mentorship is close and personal, a sort of partnership. The entire foundation of a successful mentorship lies in the quality of the relationship formed. Unlike a coach, your mentor knows all about your struggles and has the role of actually telling you the answers to your questions. Their role is to selflessly draw from their own experience and guide you towards making the best possible decision. This is why your mentors should be in the same industry or of similar academic backgrounds. Being a mentor isn’t time-bound and, in some cases, mentoring can last for years. There is no certain time frame or structure that needs to be followed.


It is also important to mention that a mentor can use the coaching methodology, but not the other way around. A mentor can approach their role from that perspective, but also from many others – teacher, counselor, parent… Their ways of working aren’t so strict and mentors are, unlike coaches, free to make their own calls and improvise.

How can I choose what is best for me?

It is important to highlight that there is no better option, it all depends on what it is that you are lacking, and what issue you are trying to solve.

Coaches can help you tackle certain problems that have been halting progress in your life, business, or even a relationship. Their role isn’t to transfer their expertise into every possible area of your life but rather to focus on a particular issue and then enable you to master techniques and methods that you can afterward apply universally. A mentor has a very different, more widened approach and isn’t required to go into particulars of a certain issue. They tend to focus on the big picture, your personality, and career as a whole.


And one final thought to leave you with: you can have both a coach and a mentor. If you are a more seasoned individual, accustomed to sharing your life with someone in that way, you can handle having two approaches and benefit from both. However, if this is the first time you are venturing into this territory, we suggest you stick with just one. Good luck either way!


By Michael Deane

Michael has been working in marketing for almost a decade and has worked with a huge range of clients, which has made him knowledgeable on many different subjects. He has recently rediscovered a passion for writing and hopes to make it a daily habit. You can read more of Michael’s work at Qeedle.