Most people use mentoring and coaching interchangeably, and you might have done the same. It is the same way people also use marketing and selling interchangeably. But does coaching and mentoring mean the same thing?

While coaching and mentoring share some similarities, they concentrate on a different focus when it comes to motivating someone.

In this article, we will explore the meaning of coaching and mentoring and the differences between both.

What Is Coaching?

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as "partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential."

Coaching involves the creation of conversations that facilitate self-learning and self-discovery. The goal of coaching is to enhance your performance and help you reach your full potential — by helping you become more self-aware and creating a definite plan of action to attain a specific goal.

Coaching sessions are either one-to-one or in a group where the coach addresses many people at the same time.

Coaching often involves some or all of the following elements:

  • Self-belief
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-discovery
  • Self-learning
  • Responsibility
  • Goal setting
  • Action

The end goal is to empower you to solve problems by yourself.

What Is Mentoring?

Mentoring often involves providing guidance and conveying specialized knowledge to someone who is less experienced in a particular field. The relationship involves the mentor and, at the receiving end, one referred to as the mentee. It is often a personal and professional relationship aimed at the development of the mentee.

The word "mentor" is said to have originated from Ancient Greek mythology. Homer in his classic poem — the Odyssey — writes of Odysseus, a king in Ancient Greece, who appoints Athena as a guardian to his son, Telemachus in his absence. Athena taught and guided Telemachus as a mentor.

Characteristically, a mentor is an experienced person or a professional who helps you develop into a successful professional like themselves by sharing with you their experience and knowledge. The mentorship could entail career development, identifying resources, and developing new contacts. Moreover, the mentorship might focus on setting developmental goals and providing guidance on how you can achieve them.

Similarities Between Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching and mentoring share more differences than they do similarities. But, a major similarity is that both the coach and the mentor are committed to the success of their coachee/mentee, respectively. Similarly, the impact or outcome of the process depends on the coachee/mentee.

Both roles are executed based on a relationship that has mutual trust and allows for open communication.

Also, both coaching and mentoring share the following:

  • Sharing of information
  • Self-awareness development
  • Goal setting
  • Exposure to a new perspective of thinking

Differences Between Coaching and Mentoring

Below are some key differences between coaching and mentoring:

  • Structure: The structure of a coaching program is mostly formal. Sessions are usually scheduled; time frames are often fixed, and venues are specified. There is a stricter level of accountability required when working with a coach. Mentoring is not as formal. Often, the mentor meets with the mentee impromptu and in a very relaxed place such as a restaurant, cafe, sometimes even at the residence of the mentor. This is usually so because the mentor and the mentee often seek to establish a cordial relationship, one built on trust and mutual respect, unlike in coaching situations where the emphasis is mostly on the goal at hand. The mentor is often regarded as a role model to the mentee.
  • Approach: Coaching and mentoring take different approaches. A coach asks a lot of questions to help the coachee think deeply and provide answers. But with mentoring, the role is reversed. The mentee often asks a lot of questions while the mentor provides solutions from his wealth of experience. Someone rightly put it this way, "A coach has some great questions for your answers; a mentor has some great answers for your questions" -Unknown.
  • Duration: Coaching often happens within a short period of time with meetings scheduled weekly, bi-weekly or monthly — as agreed upon between you and the coach. In most cases, coaching is always short-term. Whereas mentoring may last for a short period or a lifetime. Often, the duration of the mentor-mentee relationship is not always specified. It is always as long as it takes for the mentee to develop the required level of skill the training is supposed to achieve.
  • Outcome: Coaching and mentoring differ in the outcome they guarantee. Coaching, on one hand, is designed to improve the performance of the coachee — it is performance-based. While mentoring is focused on the general development of the mentee. Similarly, in a coaching situation, the outcome is often measurable. While in mentoring, the outcome is immeasurable. Little or no emphasis is placed on any metrics because development is a continuous phenomenon. The result is the development of a mentee, and it is a goal that never ends.
  • Qualifications: Coaches are often not experts in the field of their coachee. The coach is better disconnected from the coachee's specialty and outcome; this helps them ask questions and facilitates neutral discussions. However, they are usually trained in facilitating discussions and asking probing questions. A mentor usually has first-hand experience in the mentee's field (or a similar field) to qualify them as a mentor.

Although coaching and mentoring differ vastly, they both have the same purpose — which is to help employees grow, become better people, and maximize their potential. Both of which are useful tools for personal and professional development.

Which Should You Choose?

It is important to master the significant difference between coaching and mentoring because failing to do so can lead to using either for the wrong cause. This will cause a waste of company resources and the process would add no value to your employee as you intended.

From a business point of view, as an organization, you might want to implement a general mentoring program to help your employees develop certain skills or character traits. You could also organize coaching programs to help improve your employees' performance. Usually, a good business coach can challenge you or your employee to reach for the best. And in turn, you will reap the rewards of the employee's newfound vigor for success.

Supposing your business development team excels in researching potential clients, but their negotiation skills are lacking. Hence the ratio of customers compared to leads generated is poor. What you need is a sales coach. However, supposing you are looking at grooming one — or more — of your employees for managerial positions, what you need is a mentor or a mentorship program where an experienced manager mentors your chosen candidate.

Ultimately, whether you choose a coaching or mentoring program mostly depends on the specific need you are trying to meet in your organization and your priorities. With a focused outlook for yourself and your organization, you can achieve your goals.

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Notice to the Reader

The content within this article is a general guide and may not apply to your specific situation. Always consult with a professional business consultant to determine what your business needs are.