What is the Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring?
One of the most frequent sources of confusion about coaching is what it is in relation to mentoring. There are some distinct differences, and then some practices that can overlap. The distinction is important, as most groups in leadership development activities typically reverse the true definitions.
The key difference is that a mentor usually has some superior knowledge, wisdom or experience, and is able to give helpful, specific information to a mentee. A mentor might understand the politics of the organization, know who’s who or how to get results in the specific, unique terrain of the organization.
Coaches more often help clients come to insight about their own needs, actions and situations. This is usually done through open-ended questions, but also with feedback, assessments and other tools.
A key difference is that for a mentor, there is usually a right answer or solution “out there.” This means there is some objective element, such as the best way to get things done in the culture, or a great person to talk to in order to get information.
With a coach, the process is more about what’s “in here.” This means the values, beliefs, experiences and ultimately choices the client makes. The coach much less often dispenses specific information, but rather helps clients internally clarify and choose. (And part of the clarity may involve finding a mentor who can help the client distinguish fact from opinion.)
Where it can become confusing is that some mentors actually use coaching practices. They may stop giving information and start asking questions to help the mentee think things through. And, it is not unknown for coaches to share experiences as a potentially useful way of looking at an issue. However, in almost all cases, the coach will share the experience or knowledge as just one way to look at the issue, not the “solution.” The coach remembers that the client’s context may be different, and such information is usually offered as just one possibility, always with the client choosing what he or she thinks will work best for him or her. This keeps ownership with the client.