The terms ‘coaching’ and ‘mentoring’ are starting to come up a lot in the corporate world.
We accept without question the role of a coach in the world of sports and the role of a teacher for our kids. While I’ve got mountains of personal experience to prove to me that guidance from others (mentoring and / or coaching) is invaluable, it also seems that to have a mentor or a coach is not necessarily ‘business as usual’. We’re busy, after all.
And, it seems, the difference between ‘mentoring’ and ‘coaching’ may not be understood.
I’ve heard the two used interchangeably before, but they are quite different, and serve different purposes. I’ve had different coaches, mentors and teachers for different skills and parts of my life. I thought I would take a moment to explain the difference between mentoring and coaching to help you recognise when you might need one or the other.
In this article, I aim to explain the difference between the two, through the lens of career development. I’ve shared here the ‘technical definitions’ as well as my own perspective.
Mentoring is a little closer to teaching. The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as “the act or process of helping and giving advice to a younger or less experienced person, especially in a job or at school”.(1)
I always think of mentors as people who have done what you want to do, and are able to impart their knowledge and wisdom from what they have learned on their journey. They should know your industry and have specific experience you can learn from. They may also have a technical skillset that you need to learn, or they can provide advice about what to do to get a certain result you are looking for. If you want to grow in a particular direction, you might seek out a mentor in your organisation or network who can help you and will give you the answers you are looking for.
Coaching is quite different to mentoring. At its core, coaching is about helping you find your own answers. Coaches may not have any experience in your industry, or may not have achieved the goals you want to achieve. Instead, the coaching process relies on the coach asking questions to…