An executive having a session with an executive coach

What's the Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring for Businesses?

Andrew Lipovsky
October 14, 2021

One distinguishing attribute of outstanding leadership is realizing that power is transient. Creating mentoring opportunities or, better still, specialized leadership coaching such as executive coaching opportunities for those early in their careers is a way of creating pathways for growth.

Outstanding leadership calls for understanding the difference between coaching and mentorship. The two terms are often used interchangeably and may cause some confusion; however, there are some key differences. Before we understand the differences, let’s understand what coaching and mentoring are, respectively.

What is coaching?

The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as:  “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential."

Coaching is, more often than not, a full-time job. A coach imparts knowledge on specific personal or professional skill areas. For instance, when one goes through executive coaching, those being coached learn time management skills, interpersonal skills, and several other leadership skills.

Executive coaching is just one example of the almost infinite pathways one can take in developing empowered and exceptional leaders; nevertheless, leadership development is an evolving industry - new coaching techniques are developed every day as the process is refined.

What is Mentoring?

The Association of Talent Development (ATD) defines mentoring as “a reciprocal and collaborative at-will relationship that most often occurs between a senior and junior employee for the mentee's growth, learning, and career development." 

The role of a mentor is often informal and akin to a friendship with an experienced professional. A mentor passes their skills and experience to a mentee through one-on-one meetings or other formal and informal communication channels.

A quote by Steven Spielberg

Historically, mentorship has produced some of the most powerful corporate and popular culture leaders.

For example, did you know that Maya Angelou mentored Oprah Winfrey? Or that Bill Gates received mentoring from Warren Buffet?

These two examples should be enough to illustrate how mentorship can elevate one's professional acumen and leadership skills.

An executive talking to an executive coach.

Differences Between Coaching and Mentoring 

While mentoring and coaching are remarkably similar in some contexts, there are some differences. There are no regulatory bodies to enforce professional standards to differentiate the two; however, we can still point out a few differences:

1.   On Training and Skills

Coaches generally go through formal training to acquire the necessary certification and skills to gain credibility in their students' eyes and the general public.

Mentors, on the other hand, do not go through a formal process of training or certification. Their main concern is to pass on the experience and skills they have.

Mentors typically have established domain expertise in their chosen field, so the specifics of how to pass on knowledge are their primary concern. 

2.   On Focus

Mentoring relationships are usually long-term relationships that sometimes last a lifetime. These relationships are often voluntary and sometimes start with one goal but evolve to tackle various issues. 

In the context of leadership, it is the mentee who drives mentorship sessions with questions and concerns. The mentor has to sit back and listen, then give advice. 

Leadership coaching, however, takes a different route. The coach typically drives training sessions and what skills and training materials are on offer.

Leadership and executive coaching are also done in short sessions, typically lasting months or years at a time. The sessions are designed around time limitations, so they can be structured to impact specific problems quickly.

3.   On Approaches

The approach to training is a crucial difference between coaching and mentoring.

Mentors take a more relaxed approach to tackling problems with their mentees. They can adjust their strategy to fit direct and indirect issues.

On the other hand, with leadership coaching,  the coach imparts specific skills to those being coached and then lets them find solutions to problems they face. 

4.   On Personal Touch

Mentoring often has a personal approach. It is an extension of the informal nature of mentoring. A mentor-mentee relationship will involve personal anecdotes and elements of friendship.

Leadership coaching is personal but coaches are also formal service providers to you. They drive executive coaching sessions with specific objectives in mind that relate back to your development.

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Which Suits You?

Now that you know the difference between mentoring and coaching, the next hurdle is how to use the two approaches. Here are some questions to ask when narrowing down your options: 

Are you a Talented Employee in need of Training?

Coaching and mentoring can help you maximize your potential as an employee or team member. 

In this context, coaching and mentoring can help you in various ways. Coaching is focused on short sessions driven by a coach, so it could be a perfect way to address skill gaps, help you acquire new knowledge, and gain confidence through a range of activities. 

Given the long-term nature of mentoring, you have the luxury of time and you can delve into more detailed training. A good mentor or mentoring program will let you benefit from the assurance and advice of industry professionals to maximize your career potential. 

Are you a New Employee?

Integrating into a new company or organization is more often than not a difficult task. You typically need to acquire new technical skills, adjust to new cultures and customs, and deal with other unique aspects of the new organization. Coaching and mentoring are obvious ways to help you seamlessly integrate with new team members and adjust to new environments. 

Coaching and mentoring is especially crucial for new managers and executives. Leadership coaching will hasten the integration within your organization and boost performance.

Are you trying to set up a succession plan?

Succession is a dicey subject for any organization; therefore, executive coaching is crucial for figuring out who will take over the organization.

Mentorship and coaching will smooth out the transition period and ensure long-term leadership stability.

Are you trying to increase diversity and inclusion?

Leadership coaching is one of the critical pillars of diversity training. 

Coaches bring in a wealth of knowledge from an outside perspective which could help you make the workplace more pleasant for minorities, women, and members of the LGBTQ+ community. 

In a world where diversity and inclusion are emphasized across all sectors and industries, coaching and mentoring will help you boost diversity and inclusivity within your organization. 

An executive coach explaining her points on a tablet.
Inspiring, isn’t it ? Let’s go further and try one of the most comprehensive coaching experience with us.

Highrise offers Clarity

Depending on your individual goals or organization employee objectives, you might need to enroll in executive coaching, mentoring, or both. This is where Highrise completes the equation for you. We are available to scale your professional journey through a series of tools designed to make you a better professional.