Coach vs Mentor

Jul 01, 2021

Coach vs Mentor - the Basics

Coaching and Mentoring are different approaches founded in the same belief - we all have more talent than we're currently using.

"The greatest good you can do for another is not just to share your riches but to reveal to him his own." - Benjamin Disraeli

Neither comes from a place of criticism. It is an obvious fact. There is always something new to learn. A skill, a technique, a mindset. As a result, coaches and mentors can be useful throughout our lives and careers.

As I suggested, the main difference is one of approach. A good coach will respond to your statements with great questions, whilst a good mentor will respond to your questions with great answers.

What a Coach can do for you

A coach believes the answer to your challenges lies within you. Consequently, they assume you have some base knowledge and experience already.

If, for example, your performance has dipped, a coach will help you uncover both the Why and What to do about it. It may feel like you are doing all the work, but in fact, the careful structuring and sequencing of their questions is guiding you gently towards your best answers.

In many respects, your involvement with a coach may feel very functional. They are there to help you fix a problem or enhance performance. They are not there to offer sympathy or even a quick fix. You are working with them to focus, align and structure.

What a Mentor can do for you

A Mentor believes they can help you do new things or do things better. They make no specific assumptions on existing skills, knowledge or experience and instead, identify your gaps with you before offering their personal insight.

If, for example, you have been assigned a new project in an area you've never operated before, a Mentor can help get setup, plan for success and even implement effectively.

The plan is, next time you will remember your experience and feel better able to do the same things more confidently on your own.

Mentors can stick with you for years, especially if you are constantly stretching to achieve new goals. All the time they are ahead of you in experience, skills and knowledge, they have value to add to your life.

How to Choose

You may not need to choose between a Coach and a Mentor. Sometimes, we need a bit of mentoring to get started and then some coaching to keep moving confidently.

Self assessment is key. Think through which approach will specifically help you right now. Even though you may have a great relationship with your Mentor, a performance coach focused specifically on helping you get clear on how you will get to the next level may be ideal.

Equally, if you are in uncharted waters and a great Mentor is available, snap them up!

To Summarise

The key differences between a coach and a mentor are:

  • Coaching is typically a short term solution whereas mentoring can continue for many years.
  • A mentor will have first-hand experience of the activities they are discussing with their mentee. A coach may not. This is not a problem as the coach's job is to ask questions which will reveal the best way forward.
  • A coaching conversation is often structured and formal. A mentoring approach is usually better when it is more informal and flexible.
  • The mentor will focus on the bigger picture, helping the mentee build skills, knowledge and experience which is relevant not just in their current circumstances, but also for the future. A coach seeks only to improve performance today. It may have a longer impact, but the focus is in the here and now.
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