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Coaching vs Mentoring - the key differences

Updated: Feb 4, 2021

“In every block of marble I see a statute, I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it” - Michelangelo on the creation of the statue of David.

The quote above beautifully encapsulates the role of a coach for me. Coaching as a process is about revealing the beauty that exists within each human being, once we’ve chipped away at the edges! Within an organisational context “Coaching is the art of facilitating the development, learning and enhanced performance of another” (Peter Hill, Concepts for Coaching, 2004, page 9).

At its core, coaching is about performance development and a good coach will need a range of tools at his/her disposal to assist the coachee(s) in their pursuit. When dealing with corporate coaching, you will find that it falls into 3 main formats:

1) Traditional

2) Transitional

3) Transformational

The coaching could be provided on an individual, team/department or organisational level and as such the coach should be capable and prepared to utilise a range of different techniques and approaches to maximise effectiveness.

Depending on the type of coaching required, it’s not always necessary for the coach to be a subject matter expert and he/she may indeed have limited industry knowledge. Provided they have sufficient skill they should be able to guide the coachee(s) towards successful outcomes with a proactive and pragmatic mindset.

Whilst Mentoring shares many similarities with coaching, it’s worth highlighting that it’s usually a very different relationship dynamic to the one that exists between a coach and a coachee. The mentoring relationship can often take a more informal structure, with a mentor being an experienced colleague or team member within the organisation whose support and guidance can prove invaluable to the mentee.

As the mentor tends to be a more senior colleague within an organisation that possess the experience and skills beneficial for a mentee’s development, it important that they develop a good working relationship built on trust and open dialogue to ensure that the exchange of skills and knowledge is as effective as possible.

The mentor relationship tends to be open ended so progress does not need to be tailored for a specific duration, as it would, say, on a coaching programme. Thus, there is room for the relationship between mentor and mentee to become really ingrained and mutually beneficial.

A mentor may also take the lead role in training and development of the mentee, in place of a line manager. In many cases, the line manager would not always be best placed to perform the mentoring role for their direct reports as the dynamic of the relationship may compromise the honest exchange of views needed to really optimise the benefits.

It’s also worth elucidating that the Mentor’s experience may be role based and is almost always first hand, as such they may tend to provide guidance in a more directive, anecdotal style, rather than working through a particular set of coaching method toolkits.

Similarities between Coaching & Mentoring in an organisational context

· Both processes are designed to further the development, knowledge and performance of an individual within an organisation. This may be role specific, such as sales coaching for the sales team, or it could be broader in its target, such as changing corporate culture to be more ideas focused.

· Both can involve a lot of feedback and analysis in order to evaluate and improve the recipient. The feedback can be sued by managers as a way to improve work processes and also by the recipients to improve or adapt their performance.

· Both require an open and honest exchange of information to maximise impact. Honest dialogue is really at the core of the success for any coaching and mentoring relationship within an organisational structure.

Differences between Coaching & Mentoring in an organisational context

· Coaching tends to have a specific duration or term whereas mentoring is usually open ended. In practice, an organisational mentor may work with an individual for the duration of their employment (and sometimes beyond) which could mean many years, coaches tend to work in shorter, more intense programmes with specific individuals over 6 – 12 weeks (typically)

· The coaching relationship tends to be a formal arrangement whereas mentoring is more likely to be informal. Within an organisation a mentor tends to be a more experienced colleague, but a coach could equally be internal or external. Within an organisation context, this could mean that Coaches don’t need to have specific knowledge about the company directly as the coaching process can allow for successful coachee development without specific specialist knowledge of how the company itself operates. That said, an experienced coach will have established a certain degree of understanding of the company before embarking on a coaching programme.

· Coaching can be more performance focused (with specific outcomes and goals agreed at outset) whereas mentoring is individual development focused. Within a corporate structure this tends to mean that Coaching takes place over a defined period with defined objectives, whereas mentoring may be harder to quantify specific goals,

References – Peter Hill – Concepts for Coaching (2004)

Brighton School of Business – mentor guide

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