Posted by: wordsmithsuk | January 17, 2012

Coaching and mentoring – differences and similarities

There’s a lot of confusion about the workplace coaching and mentoring roles – mainly because they employ similar skills. What do these two activities actually involve? What are the differences and similarities between them? And how do they differ from instructors and sports coaches?

So what are the differences between the two roles?

The difference lies mainly in what you are trying to achieve and over what sort of time scale. A workplace coaching programme can be quite short – maybe less than a day – or it can develop over a long period. By contrast, the workplace mentor’s relationship with a mentee usually takes place over a longer time scale. It could often be six months to two years – or indeed a lifetime.

Let’s look at the differences between the coach and the mentor.

The coach
Seeks either to build someone’s confidence or teach them the skills or knowledge so they can achieve something.
Whereas the mentor
Provides job or career advice and support, based on the wisdom they have gained through experience.
The coach
Is often (but not always) an expert or specialist in the skills that the coachee wants to learn.
Whereas the mentor
Is an expert in helping someone to learn, helping them to reflect and to make decisions for themselves.
The coach
Is mainly concerned with the short or medium term improvement of performance and development of skills.
Whereas the mentor
Is mainly concerned with the longer term acquisition of skills and attitudes  in a developing career.
The coach
Has a professional commitment to the relationship.
Whereas the mentor
Makes a personal and professional commitment to a learner’s success.

Having looked at the differences, here are some similarities:

  • A coach can also be a mentor and a mentor can be a coach, or the roles can be rolled into one
  • Mentors and coaches use the same skills to help people reach significant decisions and take appropriate action
  • Successfull mentors and coaches both depend on building a relationship based on trust and openness
  • Neither are there to solve problems but rather to help identify issues and plan ways through them.

The key point is that whatever role you play, it’s vital to give the person being coached or mentored unbiased support and guidance.

Are workplace coaches and mentors the same as instructors?

It’s important to note that the role of the coach or mentor is quite different from that of the instructor. If you’re an instructor it’s likely that you will define targets or objectives in advance for learners. Instructors tend to decide which teaching or learning methods best suit the task in hand and control the order in which elements will be tackled. By contrast coaches and mentors allow learners to do things their own way. To be successful you have to be prepared to let go of your learners rather than take them over or take charge of them.

You may start by asking your learners whether or not they need some support. What role do they want you to play? When do they want to be supported? What kind of support do they need?

This kind of empowering support leads to effective learning. The reason is simple: when you control people you have to spend time supervising their behaviour. On the other hand, if you treat people with trust and respect, you can inspire them and encourage motivation and ownership.

Learn more about the roles of the coach and the mentor in our audio book ‘Coaching and Mentoring for Success’. It’s available from Amazon, from audible and from our website.

Scroll down the page to download our quick questionnaire to work out whether you are – or want to be – a coach or a mentor.



  1. […] Coaching and mentoring – differences and similarities ( […]

  2. […] Coaching and mentoring – differences and similarities ( […]

  3. […] Coaching and mentoring – differences and similarities ( […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: