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Some would argue that the difference between coaching and mentoring is more semantics than anything, but to me, there is a significant difference between a coach and a mentor.

Here’s what I say when someone asks ‘what is a coach?’ or ‘what is a mentor?’

Coaching is a service. Mentoring is a gift.

There are a lot more professionals calling themselves a ‘mentor’ or ‘coach’ these days, but I think there is confusion around what that actually means. I know some incredibly business minded people who disagree with me on this, but I firmly believe while these two roles can have similar skill sets, coaching is a service (that you charge for) and mentoring is a gift (so, you know, you don’t charge for). Here’s why:

What is a Coach?

When you think of a coach, what kind of person comes to mind? For many people, someone who calls themselves a coach will fall into two general types, fitness and business.

kicking goalsIn fitness, they could be heading up a football team, working one to one in a specific area like swimming or running or tennis; they could be a personal trainer working on general health and fitness but all of them will:

  • Be an expert in the area they are coaching
  • Be trained to coach others
  • Be engaged to coach the team or individual to ‘lift their game’ according to targets
  • Have specific and measurable results to work the team or individual toward
  • Be paid to coach – because it’s a job.
  • Here’s a great example of the work of a manager and a coach.

Similarly, in a business environment or for professional development, a coach will guide you and help you to move up to the next level. They will hold you to account, and you will pay them for expertise.

What is a Mentor?

A mentor is a successful person who you look to for advice, insight, and guidance. They are not necessarily an expert in a mentee’s field but are usually highly experienced in theirs.

The origin story of mentoring dates back to Greek Mythology and the role of a mentor has always been to take a mentee under their wing, to listen, help reflect, and guide. They are not paid for it; rather it is a responsibility that is gifted.

LeadershipI work with many organisations to set up mentoring programs. They are such an excellent way to build relationships and build upon team intelligence, especially in more hierarchical workplaces.  They help keep great knowledge in the business, as well as nurture new thinking and innovation.

Mentoring programs can be a great reward and motivator and are always an excellent way of sharing and keeping skilled people in the business.  They keep the mentee and mentors focused on their personal and professional development, amongst many more benefits.

Here are just some questions I encourage a company to explore when setting up or developing a mentoring program:

  1. Why do you want to implement a Mentoring Program?
  2. What do you want to achieve?
  3. How do you plan on choosing the participants?
  4. How is this a part of the succession planning process for the organisation?
  5. How will we measure the success of the program for the mentors, mentees and the business?

mentor vs coach

Along with implementing mentor programs, I spend time coaching mentors and mentees in how to develop the best possible mentor/mentee relationships. With a mentee, for example, I help them to clarify what they need in a mentor and prepare for conversations with a mentor in order to make the most of the sessions together.

When I coach mentors, I show them how to get clarity around a mentee’s goals, how to provide feedback, and how to help the mentee reflect and be active in helping themselves. I base these questions on my downloadable guides:

The Mentor’s Edge and The Mentee’s Edge.

Bottom line

  • Coaching is a service and mentoring is a gift.
  • You hire a skilled coach to help you lift your game. It’s their job.  
  • You don’t hire a mentor, you ask someone to be a mentor, and if they agree, it’s their gift to you and to themselves.

Have you been asked to be a mentor? Want to be an even better one?

Check out The Mentor’s Edge