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Coaching vs Mentoring: What’s the Difference?

A recent survey of 3,000 full-time employees representing 21 industries across the US revealed a telling statistic: 76% of people feel having a mentor at work is important. Similarly, Bersin found organizations with excellent cultural support for coaching have 13% stronger business results. And yet, the majority of people currently do not have a mentor or a coach.

This is unfortunate considering numerous studies have shown effective mentorship and coaching benefit not only employees, but organizations as well. Still, with all the positives of these types of programs, many organizations are still unsure when it comes to coaching vs. mentoring, or some combination of the two.

A great start for any enterprise is gathering knowledge. In today’s post, we’ll discuss the definition of coaching vs. mentoring, what they both are designed to do and the differences between coaching and mentoring.

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What is a Mentor?

A mentor is a source of support, wisdom, and experience for his or her mentee, who often times has less experience in a similar field, skill or general workforce. Preferably, a mentor is not the mentee’s manager or supervisor, but instead someone around whom the mentee can let their guard down and share their professional hopes, concerns and expectations. In turn, the mentor is equally transparent and provides honest feedback and counsel when mentees need it the most. An effective mentor-mentee relationship is one of trust, development, and growth.

What Does a Mentor Do?

woman standing on bridge

A mentor provides guidance, advice, and knowledge to the mentee, illuminating a path toward success and fulfillment in the mentee’s chosen career. Mentors draw upon their experiences and expertise to help their mentees navigate a clear road toward career goals. Along the way, mentors share their understanding of the industry’s cultural norms and practices, as well as the organization’s core mission and goals. Mentors are there to answer questions, inspire growth, understand the needs of the mentee, and explore how the mentee’s potential can benefit the organization.

Mentors act as a sounding board for mentees, someone they can bounce ideas off of and expand their ideas of what it means to be a part of the organization. Having gone through similar experiences when achieving their own career goals, mentors can offer much-needed elements of empathy to the professional relationship. A well-executed mentoring program builds the confidence and skills of the mentee, fosters the leadership strength of the mentor, and creates a positive change for the organization in its entirety.

What is a Coach?

man and woman having coffee during mentoring session

A professional coach acts as a guide for the leaders or future leaders of an organization. By assessing goals and monitoring operations, the coach determines what avenues the organization’s leaders must take in order to achieve its mission. The coach provides a set of tasks to follow and continues to assess along the way, whether the accomplishment of those tasks puts the organization on the right track for success.

What Does a Coach Do?

An effective coach will drive growth by identifying strengths and weaknesses in an employee or coachee, finding ways to address those weaknesses while improving their strengths. Often, the organization reaches out to a coach when they have a specific challenge to tackle or goal to meet. The coach will devise a plan for helping the employee succeed with that particular challenge or goal.

A coach also brings a novel perspective to an organization. Often, members of an organization are caught up in the day-to-day grind of duties and do not have time to take a step back and see whether those duties are effectively leading toward long-term goals. The coach’s business acumen and outsider viewpoint can help the organization’s leader or leadership team to shift its actions and decision-making to better suit those goals in more efficient ways.

What’s the Difference Between Coaching vs. Mentoring?

Man and woman writing notes at the table deciding between coaching vs mentoring programs

Short Term vs. Long Term

One of the biggest differences between coaching and mentoring is the time frame. A mentoring relationship is long-term compared to a coaching relationship.

  • Coaches are usually implemented short-term, maybe three months, six months, up to a year, focused on achieving a specific outcomes or goals.
  • Mentoring relationships are usually at minimum six months, and could run for several years, helping employees grow over time.

For example, if a business hires a coach to ready it’s next CEO for leadership, the relationship ends once the person settles into the role. This is different from a mentoring relationship, which can develop and change over the years as the mentee develops skills and continues to grow within the organization.

Specific Needs vs. General Needs

A coaching relationship is between the coach and an employee or senior leader in pursuit of a specific goal or required skill, where the coach is responsible for the desired outcomes. A mentoring relationships more generalized knowledge and guidance based on what the mentee wants to learn and grow in. In mentoring, the relationship is based on relationship building and connection, and produces outcomes for which the mentee is accountable.

Hands-On Experience

Coaching vs. mentoring also differs when it comes to hands-on experience. A coach may have skills and training around helping other companies in your industry but does not possess first-hand experience working in your particular organization. This is different from the mentoring relationship, where the mentor can provide first-hand experience of working in an organization and utilize this experience to empower and educate the mentee.

Present vs. Future

The goals of a coach and a mentor are different when it comes to present and future goals. A business coach’s goals are to address and solve the current problems for the individual employee. On the other hand, a mentor’s priority is to help guide the mentee and enable them to develop crucial skills that will not only aid them at present but also build upon their goals for the future. A mentor advises their mentee, but does not control or correct their mentee. In comparison, a coach is there to comment and provide constructive feedback to improve the coachee’s performance or leadership style.

How A Mentor Can Help

Woman smiling while using a laptop computer researching coaching vs mentoring

Now that you understand the difference between coaching vs. mentoring, you hopefully have a better sense of what your organization needs right now. Are there specific goals you’re trying to achieve, and can a coach lead you in the right direction? Or do you feel your organization’s employees could use direction, better connections and guidance in the form of mentorship during this time of isolation? You might decide you need a hybrid of both. Depending on the challenges your organization is currently experiencing, you now have a greater understanding of the options available.

Decision: Coaching vs Mentoring

If you’re still deciding between coaching vs mentoring, rolling out a virtual mentorship or coaching program while your company works remotely may be the perfect opportunity to stay connected, boost engagement or improve morale. This is a move that shows your staff you care deeply about their well-being while they work from home. It will also help foster and maintain valuable professional relationships that help your organization overall.

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