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Coaching vs Mentoring

Last updated on 27th April 2023

Businesses use coaching and mentoring programmes to improve the performance of their staff and help employees to ease into new job roles. Although both are used to help with professional development, coaching and mentoring have some differences in both their objectives and the way they are delivered.

The business coaching industry is rapidly growing in the UK, with the female-led and female-focussed niche recently showing the greatest expansion. The International Coaching Federation (ICF) estimates that between 2015 and 2019 the global coaching industry grew by over 30% and continues to grow year on year.

It is estimated that over 70% of Fortune 500 companies have mentorship programmes. This shows the potential value that investing in mentorship programmes could add to your business.

When considering coaching vs. mentoring, which is the most suitable will depend on the organisation, the individual and the desired outcome.

What is coaching?

Coaching is usually delivered by a skilled coach to an individual on a one-on-one basis. A skilled coach will be able to offer training, guidance, feedback and tools, usually through a structured programme.

The services of a coach might be enlisted to help a person:

  • Set business-related goals and objectives and/or meet these goals.
  • Improve productivity.
  • Overcome a problem.
  • Identify their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Stay motivated.

The person who is being coached (sometimes referred to as the coachee) needs to be receptive to what the coach is proposing and engage with the process. Individuals who are highly motivated and self-aware will respond best to coaching. The process can be extremely valuable to those who lack discipline or need help with growing their business, advancing their career or want to fast-track their success.

Coaches need to be highly adaptable individuals. A business coach may be required to serve the needs of a wide range of businesses, from ambitious start-ups to well-established companies, sole traders and large organisations.

Part of coaching is delivering information on how to improve oneself and meet objectives. This requires a certain amount of empathy and flexibility in order to assess how a person may receive the necessary information.

Although it is important for coaches to be trained, coaching cannot be described as a ‘one size fits all’ business solution and successful coaches will know how to adapt and change their approach based on their clients’ needs and character traits.

Some examples of why a person may employ the services of a coach:

  • They want to make more sales.
  • They want advice on how to plan or execute a marketing strategy.
  • They want to fill in their knowledge gaps.
  • They want a trained person there who can hold them accountable for their performance and decisions.
  • They need help with problem-solving.

A coach will usually help their coachee using a planned and structured programme in which the coach will be supporting, directing and strategising to help a person to achieve their business or career goals.

Once your coach has helped you to set goals and make a plan, they will be there to track your progress and offer advice for a set period of time.

The focus here is on business coaching; however, other popular types of coaching include:

  • Sports coaching – Where a coach instructs and trains others (adults or children) in a particular sport or exercise, for example football coach, swimming coach etc.
  • Life coaching – Also known as wellness coaches or lifestyle gurus, these people coach others on how to make life changes to find greater fulfilment and happiness.
  • Accountability partners – This is a partnership that involves coaching another person to keep on track with their goals or commitments. This could be business or lifestyle based, for example sticking to a diet or regime change.
Business coach improving productivity in organisation

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is when a person is tasked with offering guidance, help, advice and direction to a less experienced person, or one that is in a disadvantaged position. In the workplace it often involves a more senior colleague mentoring a subordinate who has been newly promoted or who is struggling to overcome work-based challenges.

Mentoring is usually focussed on long-term career development, though it can also be useful for shorter-term goals. For example, a colleague who joins a sales team but has little experience in sales might be paired with a high achiever in the sales team who can mentor them to help their performance so that they can learn to successfully make sales.

Once they have achieved success, their mentor can start to train and advise them to help with their wider career development.

Mentoring, whilst extremely useful in the workplace, can also be helpful in other areas of life, such as:

  • Mentors might make use of their skills to help the long-term unemployed back into the workplace through charity funding or via a local authority initiative.
  • Mentors can help students who are experiencing behavioural or learning difficulties in one-on-one sessions.
  • Students who are unsure of their options for the future may benefit from mentoring.
  • Youths from disadvantaged backgrounds are sometimes paired with mentors to help them with learning vital life skills.
  • Mentorship programmes are utilised by organisations that work with people facing addiction issues or within the prison system.

A mentoring relationship is usually the pairing of two people, one more senior in skills, expertise, experience or somehow in an advantageous position to act as mentor to their mentee.

What skills are required for coaching?

Some of the skills needed to be a successful business coach include:

  • Adaptable.
  • Confident.
  • Well organised.
  • Active listening.
  • Creative thinking.
  • Great at problem-solving.
  • Can give feedback in a clear and appropriate way.
  • IT skills.

Coaches may be an expert in a particular field or they may offer general expertise within business and enterprise. The nature of coaching means that clients can be from a diverse range of backgrounds and industries. This means that coaches need to be able to communicate well on different levels. Successful coaches are highly adaptable and intuitive.

People may select a coach based on other reasons than being local to them. They may be looking for a coach with a proven track record of success or with a particular skillset. This means that a coach may be working with clients around the country, or even the world. This makes face-to-face meetings a challenge.

Coaches who work with clients who live far away require good computer and organisational skills. This helps them with arranging meetings online via video call or on the phone. Both parties will need to show commitment in order to build a strong working relationship remotely.

What skills are required for mentoring?

Some of the skills that a successful mentor requires include:

  • Great interpersonal skills.
  • Good, clear communication skills on multiple levels (able to simplify complex information).
  • Positive attitude.
  • Relevant experience.
  • Empathetic and a good listener.
  • Can accept feedback.
  • Avoids micromanaging.

Mentors are there to observe and assist the person they are appointed to mentor. They impart their own skills and knowledge to their mentee to help them to be successful and overcome challenges.

In some ways, as a mentor you are required to monitor your mentee; it is important to be professional but not to lapse into micromanaging them or becoming overbearing.

The best approach to mentoring is one that provides the information and skills to a person in order for them to overcome challenges, then takes a step back to allow the mentee space to learn and grow. At the same time, you should let your mentee know that you are always available should they need you and you should check in periodically.

Experienced staff member mentoring colleague

What are the differences between coaching and mentoring?

  • Coaching is goal driven with the emphasis on work-based performance.
  • Mentoring is often thought of as having a more well-rounded, holistic approach.
  • Coaching is often a short-term arrangement with a fixed set of goals and objectives.
  • Mentoring is usually a longer-term undertaking, with some fluidity to the outcomes.
  • Coaching usually has clear hierarchical lines between the coach and the person being coached – the coach teaches, and the person being coached learns.
  • Mentoring relationships can sometimes offer the opportunity for mutual or shared learning.
  • Coaching is often most successful when a trained coach is brought in who is specifically trained to deliver coaching expertise, rather than a senior colleague who is highly trained in a specific role or industry.
  • Mentoring is typically done by a more senior and experienced employee who mentors a subordinate colleague, or a colleague who has been newly promoted, to help them to perform better in their new role.
  • Coaching usually offers a structured programme with set check-in times and meetings.
  • Mentorship programmes may use the idea of checking in ‘as and when’ with the mentor taking a step back when their services are needed less often, but they remain available to their mentee.

What are the similarities between coaching and mentoring?

Both coaching and mentoring focus on the idea of development. This is normally professional development but can also be personal, educational or even spiritual.

Although they may have different goals and use different approaches, there are many similarities between coaching and mentoring:

  • Both rely on relationship building (usually one on one).
  • Coaching and mentoring both seek to enhance a person’s skills and knowledge.
  • Both require self-discipline and awareness.
  • Coaches and mentors may come from similar backgrounds (especially those who deal exclusively with business clients).
  • Both require empathy, active listening and the ability to give contrastive criticism.
  • Successful coaches and mentors need to be adaptable and intuitive.
  • Both require certain objectives, criteria or goals to be identified and worked towards (although the framework for this will likely be more rigid with coaching).
  • Coaches and mentors require creative thinking and problem-solving skills.
  • Both coaching and mentoring require a commitment from all parties to succeed (a person cannot be successfully coached or mentored if they are unwilling to engage).

By being empathetic, intuitive and using critical thinking, both coaches and mentors can identify problems, look for solutions and support individuals with their learning and development.

Where would mentoring and coaching be used?

Business owners might employ the services of a business coach, especially when:

  • They have only recently started their company.
  • They are experiencing difficulty in their business (not making enough revenue, disorganised, need help with planning and goal setting etc).
  • They are feeling overwhelmed or not meeting their full potential.
  • They want to expedite the growth process of the business.

The simplified goal of business coaching is usually to identify the vision of where the owner wants the business to be and make a plan of how to get there. The business coach will then closely work with the business owner to help them to achieve their goals.

People who will respond well to coaching will often be:

  • Interested in setting goals.
  • Comfortable with having their performance measured or quantified.
  • Someone who can react well to constructive criticism.
  • Self-aware or willing to work on understanding themselves and their business better.
  • Adaptable and willing to take feedback on board.
  • Needing short-term help (possibly with the view to achieving a longer-term goal).
  • Somewhat confident in their industry but still willing to learn.

Mentoring is often used in the workplace where the skills and experience of established colleagues are leveraged to support subordinate or less experienced workers.

At work, a person may find having a mentor useful if:

  • They have been recently promoted to a new role or are being primed for promotion.
  • They need to strengthen their skillset.
  • They are new to the workplace or have little experience in the industry.
  • They are experiencing problems and need help.
  • They are keen to work on self-improvement.
  • They are ambitious and willing to learn from others.

Mentorship programmes are also used in wider society to help disadvantaged people or those needing to overcome challenges, as well as in the education sector.

It is also important to keep in mind that not everyone will react well to being coached or mentored at work. Communication and compatibility are key to developing a good coworking relationship.

Newly started company having coaching

What are the benefits of coaching and mentoring?

Both coaching and mentoring can help people with their career development, learning new skills and strengthening existing skills.

Developing a relationship with a mentor or coach can also help an individual to gain insight into their own strengths and weaknesses.

If you are considering employing the services of a coach or a mentor and are not sure which is the most suitable, try to think about your goals and what exactly you would be hoping to get out of the arrangement. If you are in the workplace, discuss it with your line manager or supervisor as the company may likely have experience of which route is best to take.

For both mentoring and coaching to be successful, you need to be able to build a good relationship and a clear line of communication. If you feel it isn’t working out with one mentor or coach, consider finding a different individual to work with you, as it may be the person and not the process that is the problem.

Common reasons a mentoring or coaching arrangement breaks down:

  • Communication is not clear.
  • Lack of commitment from one party (or both).
  • Lack of boundaries or clear objectives.
  • Unrealistic expectations on either side.
  • Deeper problems within the business that need to be addressed first.
  • Inexperienced trainer (mentor or coach).
  • Personality clash.

Coaching and mentoring have their own advantages and disadvantages, depending on what the user wants to get from the relationship:

  • Coaching is great for goal setting, getting impartial, third-party insight and troubleshooting. It is usually a structured process with the coach making scheduled check-ins to see how their coachee is doing.
  • Mentoring is useful in the workplace and, in a wider context, for those who want a less structured arrangement but require someone there to assist them with knowledge or skill-building. Mentors are not usually there to overcome a specific problem or reach a single goal.

The two approaches might differ in their structure and duration:

  • The coach and coachee might agree on a timeline in which certain objectives will be met or the longevity of their relationship may depend on when these objectives are met.
  • A mentorship programme usually takes a more holistic approach. The mentee’s success may be measured in various ways with more general objectives. A mentoring relationship also offers the opportunity for collaborative learning.
  • A coach will schedule meetings (online or in person) and might want to quantify information to measure their coachee’s success.
  • Rather than a timetable of set check-in times and scheduled meetings, a mentee would usually approach their mentor whenever they need advice or help – as the mentor is often a more senior colleague, they would realistically expect to have regular access to one another.
  • A coach will make a plan and monitor how well their coachee is doing over a set period of time, offering advice and motivation. The end goal is that their coachee will be able to continue with this pattern of behaviour once the period of coaching ends.
  • Once the mentee shows confidence in whatever it is they were learning or overcoming, their mentor may take a step back and check in with them less regularly but remain available as and when they are needed.

Coaches and mentors may be sourced differently:

  • Coaches are usually (but not exclusively) appointed from an external source or are independent contractors
  • Mentors are often sourced from within a company or organisation (such as a more senior colleague mentoring a junior colleague)

If you require longer-term support with a fluid approach and the opportunity for shared learning, you may react well to mentoring.

If you need short-term help with planning, setting objectives, staying on track and like a structured approach, you might benefit from the services of a business coach.

You should consider the suitability of a mentor or coach based on their track record, skills, experience and compatibility with you. For the best chance of success when using the services of a mentor or coach, try to be open-minded to the process and engage with it as far as possible.

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About the author

Vicky Miller

Vicky Miller

Vicky has a BA Hons Degree in Professional Writing. She has spent several years creating B2B content and writing informative articles and online guides for clients within the fields of sustainability, corporate social responsibility, recruitment, education and training. Outside of work she enjoys yoga, world cinema and listening to fiction podcasts.

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