You want to improve your career prospects or professional skills. You’ve heard of both coaching and mentoring. But, which one will work for you? To make that decision, you’ll need to be able to answer the key question: What’s the difference between mentoring and coaching? This article compares the two.
Some people don’t differentiate between mentoring and coaching. After all, the two disciplines do share some common goals:
- Help individuals to envision the achievement of desired objectives
- Improve communication skills
- Foster awareness of professional strengths
- Enhance individual’s ability to contribute to organizational goals
Still, while there are some commonalities, it can be useful to look at the two as distinct entities.
So, what is the difference between mentoring and coaching?
At the most basic level, coaching is task-oriented while mentoring is more relationship-oriented. Still, there’s a lot more to these arrangements, so let’s break down the differences from a few different angles.
The International Coaching Federation (ICF) says, “Professional coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes and managing personal change.”
Helpfully, the federation also provides a contrasting definition of mentoring. “A mentor is an expert who provides wisdom and guidance based on his or her own experience. Mentoring may include advising, counseling and coaching. The coaching process does not include advising or counseling, and focuses instead on individuals or groups setting and reaching their own objectives.”
Both coaching and mentoring will rely on personal meetings (face-to-face, online, or by teleconference call). The duration and timing of the engagement will be determined by the individuals on a case-by-case basis. Yet, what happens in the sessions varies by approach.
The Association for Talent Development (ATD) describes mentoring as “an informal association focused on building a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship for long-term career movement.” Coaching, on the other hand, is focused only on benefiting the coachee and maximizing their potential.
The ATD explains it in terms of talking and listening. While mentors do listen, they are also asked to provide information, make suggestions, and establish connections to help with the mentee’s identified needs.
Coaches, meanwhile, are trained to listen and identify what the individual needs and help them to develop an action plan. As the ATD summarizes it, “The emphasis is on the person or client finding the solution, not instructing or leading them.”
Another way to look at it? “Mentoring is a lot more directive,” and less structured than coaching. Coaches are specifically trained to foster self-awareness in the individual so that they can achieve their goals themselves.
Really, anyone can be a mentor. This series has discussed already how to find the right mentor for you, how to be an effective mentor, and pitfalls to avoid. The mentor-mentee relationship can be prompted by a program at your work. Or the individuals involved might decide on their own that the mentor has something to offer the mentee. When the mentoring is encouraged by the business, there may be introductory training and some support from Human Resources. But mentoring is not the only thing expected of that mentor at their work.
Coaches, though, are trained professionals. Look for a certified coach who has learned:
- A variety of concepts, models and principles drawn from the behavioral sciences, management literature, spiritual traditions and/or the arts and humanities
- How to increase self-awareness and awareness of others, foster shifts in perspective, promote fresh insights, provide new frameworks for looking at opportunities and challenges, and energize and inspire forward actions
- What assessments can support the coaching process and provide objective information to enhance self-awareness and provide a benchmark for creating coaching goals and actionable strategies
- Practiced the Appreciate approach which is, per the ICF, “grounded in what’s right, what’s working, what’s wanted and what’s needed to get there.” This approach uses constructive communication and discovery-based inquiry to proactively manage personal opportunities and challenges
When you partner with a coach, you can expect to end each session coming up with specific actions you might take to achieve your personally prioritized goals. A coach could also provide homework. They might direct you to articles or checklists, encourage you to take an assessment, or ask you to learn more about a relevant model for action or thought to inform your growth.
The mentor seldom draws on a coach’s background in evidence-based research. Instead, they are sharing their personal story and what they’ve learned in their professional lives. This means you may get directly relevant insights from your field, whereas the coach could be more of a generalist. Further, a mentor who works in the same company as you can help you to understand and navigate the work culture. They may also be able to provide valuable introductions and help you to network within your industry.
Benefits from mentoring or coaching
There are benefits to both methods. These approaches can improve individual performance, increase the individual’s confidence, and lead to better employee engagement and retention. In making the decision about which learning technique will work best for you, it helps to understand the difference between mentoring and coaching.
Want to find out which approach your employees want to try out? Try a quick survey! We can help.