Coaching vs. Mentoring: what’s the difference?

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Coaching vs. Mentoring

Coaching and mentoring are important for professional development, but there are some key differences between the two. If you are considering a more formal approach to professional development, you may wonder whether mentoring or coaching can provide you with a better experience. (Hint: both are great!)

So here’s a birds-eye-view of mentoring vs. coaching:

  • Mentoring typically involves a Senior professional working with someone more Junior.
  • If you are looking for more structure, coaching involves a formal relationship between a professionally trained coach and a coachee (person receiving the coaching).
  • A mentor typically advises, a coach is not considered an advisor.

Executive coaching differs from other learning and development programs such as mentoring in that it involves an ongoing and collaborative process and one that has a very distinct timeline. We also typically refer to this type of coaching as leadership coaching, and you’ll see the terms used interchangeably. 

Maybe you’ve had a mentor in the past and found you are interested in a more formal relationship to help you advance your career goals. Or maybe you are considering coaching for your organization and are wondering how it can fit into your broader Learning and Development strategy. 

So let’s explore some of the similarities and differences, and help you decide the best fit for you and your organization.

Executive Coaching

So, what is an executive coach? We’re not talking about your 6th grade softball team here. This style of coaching is a professional relationship. An executive coach is someone who has mastered their craft of coaching. They are trained to  provide unique, highly specialized support to the coachee  in order to help them achieve their goals. They do this through an ongoing professional relationship that’s focused on helping the coachee develop insight into their own behavior and thought patterns.

Learn more about AceUp’s global and diverse network of leadership coaches.

Your leadership coach can provide guidance on how to make changes to move forward towards your objectives. They can also serve as a sounding board, providing a different perspective, encouragement, and motivation when needed.

Coaching usually takes place over a specific period of time with both parties agreeing on the goals or outcomes they wish to achieve. Throughout the process, a coach will use various methods such as questions and conversations to guide the coachee towards uncovering deeper understanding and self-awareness. 

According to the  Institute of Coaching at McLean, Harvard Medical School Affiliate, the following are some of the basic skill coaches need in order to be successful:

  • Active Listening to assure the listener that you are hearing what they are saying.
  • Three levels of listening and the benefits of operating at the higher levels.
  • Recognizing the Saboteur and eliminating your limiting beliefs.
  • The Appreciative Inquiry approach to improvement which builds upon the positive as opposed to starting from a premise of what is wrong.
  • Championing – showing that you believe in the client and his/her abilities.

The relationship between a coach and coachee is an active one. However, despite what you may think, the coach’s role is not to give advice or tell someone what they should do. 

Instead, a coach serves as a facilitator in helping you recognize your own capabilities and untapped potential. Coaching can provide many benefits including improved communication, increased confidence, better decision making, improved productivity, enhanced personal growth, greater job satisfaction and more.

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Now that we’ve laid the foundation on what executive coaching is, let’s take a look at mentoring. 

A mentor is a trusted and experienced individual who has already achieved the goals and successes that their mentee is striving for. In addition to offering guidance, support, and advice, mentors are also in a unique position to provide insight and wisdom based on their own experiences. 

With proper guidance from such an expert, mentees can gain valuable insight in order to  better understand their career goals and develop a roadmap towards achieving them. 

Mentors can provide advice on the best educational paths, job referrals, and resources available. They can also offer guidance in navigating office politics, having difficult conversations with colleagues and superiors, as well as tips for tackling work-life balance. 

Coaching vs. Mentoring: The difference. 

Mentoring differs from coaching in some fundamental ways. Mentoring focuses on the development of skills, character and wisdom that the mentor has acquired through experience while coaching emphasizes the development of strategies and techniques. Coaching is an active process where the coach has been professionally trained to motivate the coachee through self-discovery in order to identify and reach their professional goals.

The largest difference between coaches and mentors is that coaches are paid and mentors are typically volunteers. 

For this reason, you may find it beneficial to bring both along with you for your professional journey. While your coach has been trained on the art and science of coaching, your mentor typically knows you from a prior relationship and can help you make career decisions based on that knowledge. 

Where you are in your journey is a consideration, too. Mentoring is typically a route taken by mid-career professionals vs. those who are starting out or further along in their career. Coaching, on the other hand, is for everyone. 

🎥 Watch: How to Make Employee Experience Modern, Meaningful and Measurable

Coaching or mentoring, which one is right for me?

Though mentoring and coaching both focus on professional development, there are key distinctions between the two. Most notably, mentoring is an informal process between a Senior professional and a Junior one, while coaching is a formal relationship where the coach is trained and paid for their work. 

Because of these differences, coaches do not give advice but rather, help coachees grow in specific areas through discussion and reflection. 

AceUp’s human-centered leadership development coaching model is our unique approach to upskilling and reskilling leaders at scale. Our process is rooted in the science of coaching and backed by the prestigious Harvard Medical School Institute of Coaching. We also partner with world renowned experts in the field of leadership and coaching to drive and measure behavioral change at the individual and the organizational level. Ready to build a culture of coaching in your organization? Let’s chat!

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