The terms coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably, which can lead to confusion and reduce the value of both.
This quick guide will explain the similarities and differences between the approaches so you know what is right for you and your organisation.
Lets start with what coaching and mentoring have in common. Both are techniques for the development of people in a business setting using one-to-one conversations. Both focus on exploring strengths and weaknesses and require similar skills in the coach/mentor.
What coaching and mentoring have in common:
- A series of one-to-one conversations
- Focused on development and learning
- Proven to improve work performance
- Require the coach/mentor to develop similar skills (listening, questioning, challenging assumptions, conversation management)
- Can use similar models and processes (such as GROW or CLEAR)
Many of the differences between the approaches are as a result of who is doing the coaching/mentoring. Mentoring is typically performed by a more senior employee within an organisation – someone who has done the job before, Coaching on the other hand is often undertaken by someone who is somewhat independent of the person being coached, perhaps from a different department or from an outside organisation.
However that is not the only factor that makes a difference. Mentors and coaches adopt different roles, use different techniques and generate different outcomes.
What differentiates coaching from mentoring:
Who does the coaching or mentoring?
- Mentors are typically older or more experienced people who have done the same job as the mentee in the past
- Coaches are typically independent and are skilled in coaching itself rather than the particular job role of the coachee
The role of the coach or mentor
- Mentors are expected to pass down and model good practice for the role that the mentee is doing, solving problems by passing on experience
- Coaches are expected to encourage the coachee to develop their own ideas, solving problems by asking questions and exploring options
The outcomes of coaching or mentoring
- Mentoring is very effective at ensuring the continuity and refinement of existing practices, retaining organisational knowledge and continuity of existing leadership styles
- Coaching is very effective at generating and developing new ideas and approaches to solve problems, encouraging independence of thought and authentic leadership
Coaching and mentoring, in practice, can look and feel very similar, but there are some important differences in their outputs. Good mentors often coach and good coaches sometimes mentor, so they need not be mutually exclusive, but it is important that the coach/mentor understands their role and has the appropriate skills, development and support to perform their role effectively.