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

Andrew Langat
October 14, 2021
An executive having a session with an executive coach
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One distinguishing attribute of outstanding leadership is realizing that power is transient, and thus they make mentoring and coaching a core element of their leadership and organization development practices.

This relationship-building exercise ensures that once their time is up, they will have the right mentee or person to steer the organization.

For employees still early in their careers, taking advantage of mentoring opportunities or, better still, taking advantage of the benefits of executive coaching is a way of creating pathways for growth and career progression.

Evidence suggests that both coaching and mentoring make employees more valuable, which can further make a company competitive and helps in boosting the bottom line.

To know which works for you, it is important to know the difference between coaching and mentoring.

The two terms are often used interchangeably and may cause some confusion; however, there are some distinct differences. Before we understand the differences, let’s understand what coaching and mentoring are.

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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 can be divided into five categories:

  • Executive Coaching
  • Career Coaching
  • Skills coaching
  • Relationship Coaching
  • Personal life coaching.

The goal for each coaching category varies. Some, like skill coaching, impact a specific skill, while executive coaching enhances performance and is relationship driven.

For coaches, Coaching is, more often than not, a full-time job with clearly defined set goals. It is a career on its own with set etiquette.

A coach imparts knowledge of specific skills required. For instance, when one goes through executive coaching, vital skills such as time management skills, interpersonal skills, career guidance, and several other leadership skills are taught to enhance professional development.

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

A coaching relationship is sought when:

  • You need to change career
  • You feel stuck in your current position
  • You need personal development in areas such as self-confidence
  • You need to improve your skillets in your current role

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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. Mentors pass their skills and experience to mentees through one-on-one meetings or other formal and informal communication channels.

Historically, mentoring 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 mentors can elevate one's professional acumen and leadership skills.

Before getting into a mentoring relationship, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Are you ready to go the full length of the mentoring process?
  • Does the mentor have the necessary skills required you desire?
  • Is the mentoring in line with your professional development?
  • What is the personal experience of previous mentees?
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.

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What are the Key Differences Between Mentoring and Coaching?

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

1. Training and Skills

Coaches generally undergo 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 passing on their experience and skills through mentoring relationships.

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, the mentee drives mentorship sessions with questions and concerns. The mentor has to sit back and listen, then give advice. 

Coaching relationships, however, take a different route. The coach typically drives training sessions in a structured manner to achieve improvement.

Leadership and executive coaching are also done in short sessions, typically months or years. 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.

A Mentor takes a more relaxed approach to their mentee. There are no fixed timelines in the mentoring relationships. This can be done through in-person engagement or through the use of mentoring software.

On the other hand, with coaching,  the coach imparts specific skills using specific tools 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.

5. On Agenda

Unlike coaching, where the agenda is deliberated by the coach and the coached before coaching sessions. In a Mentoring relationship, the agenda usually rests with the mentor. The mentee follows what the mentor suggests or advises.

6. On Outcomes

Coaching is performance-driven, with clearly defined outcomes often to solve a problem. On this basis, a coaching relationship can be deemed a failure or a success. For example, at the end of the coaching sessions, was there a remarkable increase in self-confidence? Are there better negotiation skills?

On the other hand, mentoring has no set outcomes. The mentoring relationships can be tweaked or enhanced depending on the relationship with the mentee or the progress made.

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Coaching vs. Mentoring: Which Suits You?

Now that you know the difference between mentoring and coaching, the next hurdle is how to use the two approaches for career or personal development.

Here are some questions to ask whether you need mentoring or coaching.

Are you a Talented Employee in need of Training?

Both mentoring and coaching 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 various activities. 

Given the long-term nature of mentoring, you have the luxury of time and 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. 

Both 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.

As a Manager, a coach can guide you on subtle areas to watch out for when selecting the right person for a specific role.

A Mentoring relationship and coaching guidance will smooth 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. 

Are you looking for New Challenges?

For ambitious employees keen on personal development, it is almost given that the need to look for new challenges will arise. Looking for new challenges does not necessarily mean that you are looking for a new job; instead, you want to push yourself beyond your comfort zone. If this is the case, and you have not identified how to proceed, then mentoring and coaching can help offer clarity.

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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.

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Andrew Langat
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Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.