Coaching and Mentoring: similarities and differences

By Jan Murray
Coaching and Mentoring differences

Last updated

Comparing coaching and mentoring can be difficult, as they have a lot in common but also have distinctive features that are all their own. As an additional challenge, the definitions of each are not set in stone but depend on your reference sources. In this article, we will aim to clarify the situation.

One highly-respected reference source is the book "Coaching and Mentoring: Practical Techniques for Developing Learning and Performance" by Eric Parsloe and Melville Leedham. They highlight many overlaps between coaching and mentoring: in particular, that both include skilful, meaningful dialogue aimed at bolstering development growth (personal and or professional) as well as performance.


A coach is an expert in a specific area. This could be business growth, financial support, marketing, sales, social media or other areas where a person may need help to develop their business.

"Coaching is the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another." - John Whitmore (2002)

A trained coach helps their mentee identify and tackle their obstacles to success, by sharing proven approaches, methods and solutions. As part of the relationship, the mentee is accountable to their coach for the success of their business or career.


Mentors are a little different: they have personally experienced some or all of the same situations and challenges as their mentee. The latter therefore benefits from this wisdom as well as a more personal connection than a coach might provide.

"Mentoring is to support and encourage people to manage their own learning in order to maximise their potential, develop their skills, improve their performance and become the person they want to be." - Eric Parsloe, The OCM.

Through sharing their personal expertise, a mentor can provide a clearer road ahead for their mentee, thus saving them from having to go through a steep learning curve and making unnecessary mistakes along the way. As a result, a person with a mentor can develop their business or career faster than one without.

Differences between coaching and mentoring

The main difference between coaching and mentoring is that coaching focuses on specific skill development and performance improvement, while mentoring fosters personal and professional growth through a long-term, supportive relationship. When looking to differentiate between coaching and mentoring in more detail, although there are not hard and fast rules, the following are some general principles that can be applied:

Coaching Mentoring
Usually focuses on work-related issues or clearly defined areas to develop Focus is broader and more holistic, covering the mentee's development as a person as well as their career
Coach-mentee relationship generally runs for a defined and generally short time interval Mentor-mentee relationship is more open-ended and is generally designed to last longer
Usually a formally structured program, due to dealing with specifics Usually a more informally structured working process, due to dealing with a broader framework
Coach generally doesn't need to have had direct experience of their mentee's occupational role Mentor is usually more experienced and qualified than their mentee, and so passes on knowledge and direct experience
Coach can be a line manager Mentor is specifically not a line manager
Coach plans and sets the goals, and the actions and time-frames necessary to achieve them Mentee, not mentor, sets the goals and plan of action

Similarities between Coaching and Mentoring

However, coaching and mentoring also have aspects that are much the same - as proposed by Parsloe and Leedham:

  • Both involve meaningful dialogue aimed at unlocking the mentee's potential and raising their performance
  • Both require confidentiality
  • Both require effective supervision and management alongside useful and appropriate processes in order to have the most positive impact on the mentee
  • Both use the provider's questioning, listening and feedback skills
  • Both require the provider to have a good interpersonal skills, and a good working knowledge of organisations and the principles of learning
  • Both require clear and understood ground rules, agreements, and protocols

Whilst it is helpful to see the similarities and differences between coaching and mentoring, there is clearly also a lot of overlap. In reality, the most effective approach often uses a blend of both, such as with coaching and mentoring in healthcare, where coaching and mentoring are used separately to cover different workforce challenges and inequalities within the healthcare system.

Benefits of coaching and mentoring

Whether you choose to receive coaching or mentoring, they both offer the following benefits:

Get an outside perspective: see the bigger picture
A person is often too involved in their business or career to see a realistic and balanced view. The coach or mentor encourages their mentee to view the situation from alternative or broader perspectives; this enables them to identify strengths, weaknesses and opportunities that they might have missed but can now address effectively.

Reaching further
Sometimes, we will do things for other people that we wouldn't do for ourselves. Accountability to a coach or mentor tends to result in improved focus and determination to reach goals.

Achieving greater success
In a good working relationship, a coach or mentor helps their mentee maintain their motivation and positivity, which in turn further develops the latter's career.

Have a safe space to discuss ideas and problems
A coaching or mentoring process ensures that the person's ideas and explanations are listened to and discussed, which in turn stimulates and challenges their thinking. By encouraging a mentee to work out their own ideas and solutions, a coach or mentor enables the mentee to make well-informed decisions at a faster rate than they would by themselves.

Be continually challenged
People can stagnate in their career and lose their drive. Coaches and mentors challenge this in a positive way: they help people to breathe new life into their careers, and enthuse them with the dynamism to develop themselves professionally and achieve more advanced goals than before.

A coach or mentor ensure will ensure that their mentee will be continually motivated - not just to do more than before, but to do it more effectively than before.

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