What is the difference between coaching and mentoring?

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A character with a question mark
What is the difference between coaching and mentoring

Coaching and mentoring are both developmental processes that help people achieve their goals. There are some key differences between the two.

  • Goals: Coaching supports a client to define their objectives for the engagement, whether to have a sounding board, achieve a specific goal such as improving their performance at work or learning a new skill, advancing their career, strategizing, supporting a healthy balance, or succession planning. Mentoring is more focused on helping the mentee learn organizational culture and it is more directive.  Mentoring focuses on overall growth and may not have a specific goal in mind.
  • Relationship: The coaching relationship is typically more structured and time-bound than the mentoring relationship. Coaches ask the client to create their agenda for each meeting, and the relationship may last for a few months or years – the average is one year. Mentoring relationships are often more informal and may last for many years.
  • Role of the mentor or coach: The role of the coach is to help the client identify their goals and plan their strategies by asking questions, exploring perspectives, and expanding thinking. The role of the mentor is to share their knowledge and experience with the mentee, and to provide support and advice.
  • Type of expertise: Coaches ideally are trained and have credentials demonstrating coaching expertise. Mentors typically have more general experience and knowledge.

Here is a table summarizing the key differences between coaching and mentoring:

Characteristic Coaching Mentoring
Goals Specific, measurable General, developmental
Relationship Structured, time-bound Informal, long-term
Role of the coach or mentor Partner, explore perspectives and possibilities Advisor, role model
Type of expertise Specific – coaching process General

Ultimately, the best way to choose between coaching and mentoring is to consider your individual objectives and goals. If you are looking for help achieving a specific goal, then coaching may be the better option. If you are looking for more general guidance and advice, then mentoring may be a better fit.

Here are some additional things to consider when choosing between coaching and mentoring:

  • Your personality and learning style. Some people prefer the independence and ability to make your own choices with coaching, while others prefer the more informal and advising approach of mentoring.
  • Your budget. Coaching can be more expensive than mentoring, as coaches are typically professionals who have been trained in the field.
  • Your availability. Coaching typically requires more regular meetings than mentoring.

If you are still not sure which option is right for you, it may be helpful to talk to a coach or mentor to learn how each works.

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