I have recently been running a training course to train up some mentors as part of a new mentorship programme one of my clients is introducing to their organization.

The topic of understanding the difference between a coach and a mentor raised its head and is something I find myself explaining quite often so thought it was worth writing about.

There is no doubt that as we develop our skills and ourselves we need different support at different times. Sometimes its training to up skill, sometimes it’s a mentor to share knowledge, experience and wisdom and sometimes it’s a coach to help us better understand. So all types of learning have their place but lets compare coaching to mentoring.

The coach’s job is to question and be as non-directive as possible. It is based on the premise that the coachee has the answers but needs help to reach them for themselves. The coach gives perspective and offers new approaches to solving problems.  Sometimes the coach will share tools, templates and frameworks to help move the process more rapidly forward.

The mentor’s job is to share knowledge, wisdom and experience. The mentor will ‘have been there and done it’ so helps the mentee learn from the mentor’s experience. Therefore the matching process here is very important.

Here is a neat matrix comparing coaching, mentoring, training and counseling. It shows the differences quite clearly

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When to coach and when to mentor?

Mentoring is all about knowledge transfer and works well in a situation where an experienced person is working with an inexperienced team member. The mentee may not have enough knowledge to be able to ‘work it out for themselves’ via a coaching process.

The coach will have a range of questioning skills to help the coachee see things from a different perspective. The coach may share some of these tools, frameworks and skills to help develop the coachee but the premise is that the coachee has the answers; they just need help reaching them.

There is no doubt that mentoring potentially delivers results and changes in behaviour more rapidly because the mentor is ‘telling’ the mentee and sharing their wisdom. However when appropriate, taking a coaching approach delivers arguably longer lasting change because they have been coached to reach the conclusion themselves and therefore are more likely to ‘own’ it.

There are two very different skill sets required to be a successful mentor or coach.

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