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Coaching vs. Mentoring: What's the Difference?

Though coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably, there are distinct differences.

What's more, failing to recognize and understand these subtle differences may muddy the objectives and lead to confusion about what each intends to accomplish.

Part of the confusion stems from the fact that both coaching and mentoring borrow from the same category of skills and processes. For example, among the options open to an astute mentor may be the opportunity to coach a mentee.

According to the International Coach Federation, coaching is "An interactive process to help individuals and organizations develop more rapidly and produce more satisfying results; improving others' abilities to set goals, take action, make better decisions and make full use of their natural strengths."

Although it's a bit formal, www.businessdictionary.com says mentoring is an "Employee training system under which a senior or more experienced individual (the mentor) is assigned to act as an advisor, counselor, or guide to a junior or trainee. The mentor is responsible for providing support to, and feedback on, the individual in his or her charge."

Actually, use of words such as training and counselor tend to further blur the distinctions between coaching and mentoring. Nonetheless, there is one obvious difference that these definitions underscore. In most cases, coaching focuses attention on improving a specific skill. Mentoring emphasizes more holistic development. In other words, coaching is task-oriented. Mentoring is relationship-oriented.

Generally, coaching interactions are of shorter duration than mentoring relationships. That is not always the case, however. The relationship between a world-class athlete or high-powered executive and a coach may start with the desire to hone specific skills. But it may grow beyond that—moving on to other performance tasks and even evolve into a broader and more personal connection that is a mix of coaching and mentoring.

Perhaps the best way to quickly gain an overview of the differences between coaching and mentoring is to provide a summary in chart form. While these judgments may not be valid 100 percent of the time, they hold true in a majority of cases.

COACHING AND MENTORING DIFFERENCES

Coaching

Mentoring

Task-oriented with focus on specific skill or performance issues. Wants to improve or master skills.

Relationship-oriented seeking to provide a secure environment for sharing and relationship building. Wants to create balance and improve self-confidence, self-esteem.

Often short-term, but it can last as long as necessary to accomplish the task(s) at hand.

Almost always long-term. Involves mutual sharing and the creation of a climate of trust necessary to personal growth.

Driven by performance.

Driven by the desire to develop personally and holistically.

Doesn't necessarily require a design. The coach meets the student at his point of progress and works forward.

Usually involves a design phase to examine strategic purpose, areas of focus and tactical details.

The immediate manager of the coachee is involved directly as an active partner.

The manager of a mentee is only indirectly involved. The primary connection is between mentor and mentee. (Source)

Tends to be more formal and structured. Sessions regularly scheduled in specific and predictable venues.

Tends to be informal, and meetings can take place in a variety of venues, including over dinner, on outings or in private settings.

Does not involve brokering or introducing the student to persons of influence in the industry or organization.

May involve brokering—introducing the mentee to persons of influence in the industry or organization.

A coach typically is not viewed or regarded as a role model.

A mentor is often regarded as a role model.

A coach typically does not advocate on behalf of a student.

A mentor frequently advocates on behalf of a mentee. (Source)

Clearly, the line between coaching and mentoring is sometimes fuzzy. And Nonetheless, the disciplines have clear and logical differences, and it's good for all participants to clearly understand the intent of the relationship they're entering.

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