Coaching and mentoring both exist for the same purpose: helping others grow, develop and reach their full potential. Both coaching and mentoring give the opportunity for individuals to take responsibility for their own personal and career development.
The two frequently get grouped together when discussing people development, making it feel like an ‘either or’ decision for organisations. But there are a number of key differences between coaching and mentoring, so it's important to see them as separate things and understand how they can work together.
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To start with, let us consider the definition and elements of both terms:
A mentor is someone who can guide, advise, and support you to be the best you can be in your career. They take time to understand you and the challenges you're facing and then advise you based on their understanding of the problem and their personal experience – with the aim of helping you towards your goals.
The benefits of mentoring include; increasing self-confidence, developing communication and leadership skills, and gaining exposure to new perspectives. As a result, those with mentors are more likely to feel inspired and motivated to progress in their careers.
While the best mentors will bring elements of coaching into their sessions, there are key elements of mentoring that are different to coaching.
Mentoring relationships have the potential to last a lifetime if they result in friendship. Even if you initially get a mentor to support you with a specific goal, once you have that connection with someone you may reach out to them again in the future. Mentoring tends to be longer-term than coaching partnerships due to its personal and informal nature.
Typically, mentoring is voluntary. Whether the mentoring takes place informally through personal networks, or formally through a company mentoring program, there is rarely an expectation of payment for the mentor's time. Both parties are dedicated to the personal development of the mentee, and the process is also highly rewarding for the mentor. Mentoring succeeds because mentors like to 'give back' or 'pay it forwards' and understand that mentoring is also beneficial for them.
💡 Mentors find their jobs more meaningful and less stressful than those who do not mentor, and have also been found to be more likely to get a promotion.
The role of a mentor is to listen, learn, and advise. It is about pointing their mentee in the right direction and aiding their career development. The difference between coaching and mentoring in this regard is that mentoring is a softer and more relationship-focused form of guidance, as opposed to a structured training approach coaching often takes.
With mentoring, the mentee is responsible for driving the sessions and steering the relationship. A common misconception is that a mentor will tell you exactly what to do and shape you into a more successful person, but the opposite is true. A mentee must be dedicated to their own development, and utilise their mentor to help them achieve their goals. 📖 Read more: How To Be A Good Mentee.
Due to the personal nature of mentoring, a mentor will often draw on their personal experiences and expertise to help advise their mentee. This could be in the form of sharing a story that taught them a valuable lesson, or a challenge they overcame in their career. This kind of personal dialogue is welcomed and encouraged in a mentoring relationship.
While there are a number of different styles of coaching and types of career coach, ultimately a coach is someone who can support you in specific personal or career development areas. They may identify and prioritise improvement areas, break down your end goal into smaller goals and work with you to shape and grow your mindset.
Career coaches can help you understand yourself better, improve your mindset and equip you with the skills to handle future challenges and situations.
Compared with mentoring, coaching is typically more structured and tailored to specific outcomes, as opposed to general personal development. This more formal structure is also a result of coaches charging for their service, unlike mentors.
Here are some of the key elements of coaching that differ from mentoring:
Coaching partnerships are more short term than mentoring relationships, due to the fact that they are objective driven and more structured. Someone may seek out a coach to help them develop a specific skill or work through a particular limiting belief. The coaching could well end once that skill or objective had been acquired.
As opposed to advising and guiding, coaching focuses more on training and up-skilling to help you develop a winning mindset. A coach can help increase your self-awareness by identifying areas for improvement and challenging assumptions that may be preventing you achieve your goals. Coaching is often used for the development of leadership skills, where they may train you in the art of questioning to equip you to manage others better or identifying limiting beliefs about yourself.
Unlike in a mentoring dynamic, a coach is more likely to drive the sessions than the client. While the client will naturally have input and is taking responsibility for their development by undergoing coaching, there is less expectation on them to run the sessions. NB: this may differ depending on the style of coaching.
A coach is not obligated to discuss anything personal. In fact, there's a high chance they have no experience in the industry or role that their client works in. This is a key difference between coaching and mentoring, where mentors would draw on their experience and knowledge to give advice.
As you can see from the above lists, coaching and mentoring are not the same thing. However, they're also not worlds apart. Both coaching and mentoring are methods of developing individuals and they hold similar values at their core. Implementing coaching and mentoring in your organisation can support your learning and development goals in different ways.
"It is a journey where the process of learning is as important as the knowledge and skills gained" (Zeus and Skiffington, 2000)
In both mentoring and coaching, there is:
And so the relationships are underpinned by many similar principles.
Once you understand the similarities and differences between coaching and mentoring, you can see how they are able to complement each other as development practices.
For example, as an organisation, you may want to foster a culture of people-focused personal development and implement a company-wide mentoring program. Yet you could also provide a specific leadership training option to your managers, and so provide them with coaching sessions.
The effect of this two-pronged approach to coaching and mentoring is highly valuable. Those managers who have undergone coaching will also make very good mentors to other individuals in your organisation. When you bear in mind that 89% of mentees go on to be mentors, you can create a ripple effect culture of learning and development within your organisation that has people at its core.