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Coaching vs Mentoring

What is the difference between Coaching and Mentoring?

By Kay Maddox-Daines


Coaching and mentoring are quite often terms that are used interchangeably. Does that matter? Although not everyone has to agree on a single definition it is important that everyone in a specific organisation understands the terminology in their particular setting. The purpose and output of relationships needs to be clear and agreed for both coaching and mentoring to work effectively.



How do we define coaching?


A coach is usually a qualified professional that works with individuals to help them gain self-awareness, clarify goals, achieve their development objectives, unlock their potential, and act as a sounding board. Coaching can aid individuals and teams but works most effectively when aligned to specific goals. It’s rather like an intense conversation where one person asks the questions and the other explores the answers.


Coaching embraces a diverse range of approaches and intentions. Here’s just a few examples:


Behavioural coaching – facilitates an exploration of our behaviours, values, attitudes, emotions in order to achieve behavioural change through learning and unlearning to achieve learning acquisition and change


Performance coaching – seeks to raise performance in individuals, teams and organisations by improving current skills, supporting the development of new skills and helping to realise their full potential


Leadership coaching – focusses on the development of talents and competencies within individuals to support enhanced performance and may support both aspiring and existing leaders to become more self-aware, drive change and explore leadership styles


Executive coaching – is aimed at senior leaders in organisations and takes the form of targeted conversations that challenge, support and develop individuals to enhance performance, drive change, prepare for the current role or joining the board and enhance personal impact


Career coaching – A career coach works with individuals to support progress in current or future roles, to support career planning, work and life balance, values and priorities, to support career change, create action goals, support with CV building, job applications and interviewing


Coaching example:


Geraldine was Head of School for Health and Science in the university sector. She had spent many years working hard, raising her children, balancing life and work, completing her PhD part time, researching and writing. For twenty years she hadn’t stopped. She ran a successful department and had achieved the professional goals that she had set herself. She was now feeling unfulfilled and exhausted and was keen to explore how to move forward. Through six sessions of coaching she was able to work through the highs and lows of her career trajectory, identifying her successes and recognising the sacrifices that she had made and the impact on others. Geraldine recognised that her priorities had changed and her need for vertical career progression seemed less important. She was able to give herself permission to do different things. Some months later Geraldine moved from her substantive post to a portfolio career.


How does coaching compare with mentoring?


Mentoring is a great way of providing a support and guidance whereby one person shares their knowledge, skills and experience to assist others to progress in their own lives and careers. Increasingly, mentoring is recognised as a two-way mutually beneficial relationship where both the parties (mentors and mentees) learn through the relationship. Mentoring is a great way of supporting career development as a mentor can offer advice that will support progress (signposting to reading, courses, key contacts), share stories about their own experience or knowledge, provide networking opportunities and possibly make introductions to key leaders.


Coaching goals tend to focus on working on specific challenges and focuses on supporting the client to explore how to solve the problem. Mentoring goals tend to be longer term and larger goals (for example, how to become a better leader).

The process of coaching and mentoring will differ according to the organisational context and the format agreed with the individuals involved. The length of the coaching relationship will be defined at the contract stage and reviewed at mid-point but is usually short term with defined goals and outcomes agreed at the outset. Mentoring is often a longer-term career relationship with someone who has ‘done it before’.


Mentoring is relationship oriented. It seeks to provide a safe environment whereby the mentee shares whatever issues affect his or her professional and personal success. Although specific learning goals or competencies may be used as a basis for creating the relationship, its focus goes beyond these areas to include things, such as work/life balance, self-confidence.


Mentoring example


Armat progressed rapidly through the ranks in his twenties but now feels he is stagnant in his current role. He feels he should be more ambitious but is hesitant to move on either internally or externally as he is appreciative of the work/life balance he has secured which enables him to manage a long commute into central London whilst balancing the needs of a young family.


Armat found a mentor through his professional body as he was keen to explore how a manager in his field manages work life balance and to learn more about what he can do now to prepare for his future role. Armat meets with his mentor once a month.He e-mails his mentor ahead of the meeting with some areas that he would like to discuss.These themes provide the structure for the meeting.With the help of his mentor Armat is now exploring membership of professional networks and courses that will prepare him for his next role


Future People Learning offer the following ILM coaching and mentoring courses at ILM Level 3, ILM Level 5 and ILM Level 7.

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