Coaching or Mentoring?

How do you know…Coaching or Mentoring?

This article will explore the differences between a Coach and Mentor – and clarifies how they can both add value and play a role in supporting personal and professional effectiveness. As they share many similarities, knowing which is most appropriate can be challenging. The commonalities for both are that they;

  • Are vehicles that enable and enhance knowledge, contribute to performance and overall personal effectiveness
  • Offer non-judgmental guidance and feedback
  • Use active listening and questioning techniques to gain insights
  • Follow the agenda of the Coachee or Mentee
  • Are future focused
  • Demand a commitment to action

Arguably, almost all of these are fundamental tenets of effective communication in any relationship – be it in a leadership role, peer to peer or friendship. These attributes are also often referred to as a ‘coaching’ style or approach of communication.


Professional Coaching

Coaching is used in formal and informal structures within organisations. A good starting point is to distinguish between professional Coaching vs. the use and promotion of a coaching style of management and communication. Professional Coaching works with and is focussed on the behaviours, values, and beliefs that an individual uses to form their view of the world and how they respond to it.

A Professional Coach will;

  • Have an understanding of how behaviours are constructed and de-constructed
  • Be able to connect behaviours with values and beliefs that form identity markers – interesting third party blog on this topic
  • Know how and when to challenge a clients perspective in order to generate more positive alternatives
  • Use listening and questioning skills to help a client increase their awareness and make more conscious choices
  • Allow the client the space to find the most appropriate solutions – not only for the presenting topic but for the ‘habit of mind’ or way of being that has blocked them in the first place
  • Give feedback – in the moment to help the client identify and reflect on hidden behaviours or habits of thought that may be blocking their effectiveness
  • Moves at the pace of and to the agenda of the client in a non-directive manner
  • Not allow their views, opinions or beliefs influence the client’s agenda or thinking
  • Use coaching as a short term, focused intervention, with coaching plans typically running for 4 to 6 sessions

The focus on developing more productive behaviours through increased awareness can apply to all types of situations – from being a better communicator and /or team player, more authentic leader, to simply being a happier more motivated person so that you can perform at your best. These are all goals achieved by improving our intra-personal “self ” and inter-personal “people” intelligence and developing sustainable self management strategies. It’s important to emphasise that these desired behaviours are not necessarily remedial, they most often relate to pushing for the extra 10%.

From an organisational view point, coaching is appropriate where the company wishes to impact productivity through its people. Coaching can help enhancing desired behaviours associated with how they would like employees to interact with one another and as a whole; or to address a perceived weakness in an area of personal awareness and self management of an individual.  In other words, impact things like: Leadership, Individual and/ or Team Performance, Work styles and ultimately Culture.



Bearing in mind the similarities outlined above, Mentoring has a much broader remit than professional coaching, in that it allows for a relationship based on sharing the skills or knowledge of the Mentor. The relationship, in a professional setting, is often focused on increasing a mentees effectiveness in a specific area, in order to achieve professional development or organisational objective.

A mentoring relationship or programme can;

  • Improve performance by building knowledge in specific areas important to your business or project
  • Reduced stress associated with a sharp learning curve
  • Be used in a flexible manner. For example, the relationship between mentor and mentee may be as short as one or two meetings in quick succession or a series of 10-12 session throughout the year, depending on the skills being developed/ transferred and how progress is being evaluated.
  • Creating an environment where people are motivated to, and have the structures they need, to help and be helped by others – regardless of their position, politics and or hierarchy associated with workplace knowledge capital.

From an organisational perspective, mentoring is relatively underdeveloped. We believe that this is because of the perceived expertise and hierarchy associated with the label of Mentor.  This ‘expert ‘ term, if not focused makes it impossible for anyone with authority (perceived or otherwise) to seek mentoring. Likewise, creating a resistance to volunteering in those with expertise for fear that they may be judged to be lacking – or perceived to be egotistic. These misguided beliefs are understandable when we consider how mentoring has evolved.  Youth mentoring, particularly when used to support troubled children or teen, is by its nature focused on guidance from a ‘more experienced elder’ as it typically relates to ‘life’ skills. However, if we focus on the skill being transferred, the benefits are limitless.

Mentoring in Action – Example

When mentoring is based on the transfer of specific skills, we create the opportunity for the CEO to seek mentoring on topics like customer service from your most highly rated contact centre agent; social media tips from the new digitally savvy intern on the marketing team; or learn how to improve their organisational skills from your star project manager. Likewise, your project manager could maybe do with improving their negotiation skills from your top sales person. All of these examples of skills transfer can lead to a mentee being more effective in their role, by applying the learning to their context.


The Benefits of Knowing the Differences

We hope this article has helped you better understand how to get the most out of the supports available to you in a professional context. Before making the choice between coaching or mentoring, it will help to considered the following;

  • If you are looking to make an impact to the core drivers of an individuals desire and perceived ability to perform – Professional Coaching will help them understand the behaviours, values and beliefs that are serving them or holding them back.
  • If you are looking to make an impact to specific skills – hard or soft, through knowledge sharing in order to increase an individuals effectiveness is specific areas – Mentoring, from another individual who skill and knowledge in this area is a natural strength will help the mentee find ways to model more effective practices.

For more information on one to one Mentoring or Coaching support or if you would like to find out more about setting-up a programme to support your employee development needs, please have a look at our services page. Your feedback and comments are welcomed, and appreciated. Please share this article if you felt it offered so, valuable insights.

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