Coaching vs. Mentoring
What's the difference?
The other day my co-workers and I were having a discussion during which the words “coaching” and “mentoring” were used interchangeably. That didn’t seem right to me — they mean different things!
When challenged, the only way I was able to explain the difference was to describe coaching as more “hands-on” while mentoring is more “arms-length”. However I left the discussion thinking that there’s probably more to it.
So I did some research.
I found a handful of articles summarize a common set of differences between coaching and mentoring. Synthesis and references follow!
1. Short-term. 3+ months.
2. Formal. The coaching relationship is typically viewed as a more formal engagement. A specially-trained coach is sought out to support a coachee.
3. Coach asks questions. Asking thought-provoking questions is a top tool of the coach, which helps the coachee make important decisions, recognize behavioural changes, and take action.
4. Non-directive interaction. The interactions involve asking questions, giving non-directive feedback (e.g. CEDAR model), reflecting, and raising awareness.
1. Coaches are trained. May receive special training to guide people in any field towards achieving their goals.
2. Performance-driven. designed to improve the professional's on-the-job performance.
3. Evaluative. Evaluate performance via evaluations, assessments, quizzes, etc.
4. Skills-based knowledge transfer. As knowledge transfer involves discrete skill sets, a coach may not have experience in the broader domain that the coachee works in. Sharing personal anecdotes may not be necessary or common.
III. Session Design
1. Structured. Recurring (weekly / bi-weekly / monthly) practice sessions with a regular structure.
2. Co-created agenda. The coaching agenda is co-created by the coach and the coachee in order to meet the specific needs of the coachee.
3. Coach leads session. Coach drives the agenda for the relationship. This stems from the fact that coaching is performance-related. The coach imparts a specific skill to the coachee to improve their performance. Their guidance should never stretch beyond helping the worker develop the skill.
4. Specific outcome. The outcomes from the coaching sessions are specific and measurable, showing signs of improvement or positive change in the desired performance area.
1. Long-term. 12+ months.
2. Informal relationship. Mentoring is often viewed as informal. Mentors are found within a company or professional community, and the relationship begins organically.
3. Mentee asks questions. In the mentoring relationship, the mentee is more likely to ask more questions, tapping into the mentor’s expertise.
4. Directive interaction. Mentor instructs, tells, gives advice, and offers suggestions.
1. Mentors are not trained. May not have formal training in mentorship. Their main focus is passing on expertise to another person so they can be more successful.
2. Development-driven. Looking beyond the professional's current job function, taking a holistic approach to career development.
3. Non-evaluative. Mentors do not evaluate mentees.
4. Experience-based knowledge transfer. As knowledge-transfer is more experience-based, mentors often draw on their personal experience and knowledge to give advice. Consequently, experience in the broader domain that the mentee works in is valuable and often important.
III. Session Design
1. Non-structured. Generally meetings tend to be more informal, on an as-need basis required by the mentee.
2. Agenda set by mentee. The mentoring agenda is set by the mentee. The mentor supports that agenda.
3. Mentee leads session. When a mentee is part of a mentoring relationship, they are in the driver's seat. They set the goals of the relationship and what they want to work on. They request time with the mentor, and they come to them with the problems they want to solve.
4. Non-specific outcome. Outcome from a mentoring relationship can shift and change over time. There is less interest in specific, measurable results or changed behaviour and more interest in the overall development of the mentee.
I’m left wondering where these concepts originate from. Given the consistency across the various references, there must be a common origin.
Do any of you know?
I’ll end it here for now, as I’m still conducting and compiling research. That means more Googling, though I am interested in more comprehensive sources than what I’ve got so far.
In a follow-up post, I’ll dive into the etymology of “coaching” and “mentoring”, as well as how these terms were used historically and how their meaning evolved over time.
Do you find these distinctions useful? Do they contradict how you’ve seen the terms used? Let me know what you think!