What's the difference between mentoring and coaching? And why is it important? Learn the key distinctions between these options.
What You Will Learn
Mentoring vs Coaching
“A lot of people have gone further than they thought they could because someone else thought they could.” (Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker).
One of the talents that sets human beings apart from all other animals is our ability to share knowledge, passing on our skills, expertise and advice to our fellows. Two ways of doing that are through mentoring and coaching.
But wait a minute...aren’t those pretty much the same thing? Actually, no. There are some very clear distinctions between mentoring and coaching, and it’s important to understand the difference.
“When I was thinking of going into the airline business, I contacted a mentor who had actually failed in that industry. People who have failed in business are often the ones who can teach you the most, because you learn a lot through failure.”
“So Sir Freddie Laker came to my houseboat and gave me the best business advice I ever received. That was to use myself to put Virgin on the map, because that would be a lot cheaper than taking out full-page newspaper adverts.”
Virgin Group CEO
Maybe you are someone who is looking for assistance in improving your life, your health, your career or your relationships. Or perhaps you are interested in passing on your knowledge in such areas to others. Either way, you need to understand how coaching and mentoring differ, so you can decide which path is right for you.
"When I was thinking of going into the airline business, I contacted a mentor who had actually failed in that industry. People who have failed in business are often the ones who can teach you the most." (Richard Branson)
Here’s a simple summary of the distinction:
“A coach has some great questions for your answers; a mentor has some great answers for your questions.”
Now let’s dig into the detail:
What is Coaching?
Coaching is the kind of education that you are most likely to be familiar with. It’s similar to teaching in that it is task-oriented and performance driven. There is a specific area where the coachee (the person being trained) needs to learn a new skill or improve performance.
"If I could things differently, I would have hired a coach sooner, while still working in the job I hated and created a more moderate transition plan. It would have helped to have had some savings for starters. And I had no idea how to get clients. I would have done a bit of research on how to do that first instead of just jumping in."
On the advice of her life coach, Ali quit her ad agency job, started her own business and became the multi-millionaire owner of Ali International. She advises anyone stuck in a job they hate to overcome the fear of change.
"When you are stuck in a job you can’t necessarily see the next step to take, you just have to take it first. You don’t see all the steps lined out in front of you, but as you make the first step, the second step reveals itself."
Ali Brown, Entrepreneur
A typical coaching program is of a short, fixed duration. There is a clear agenda for what needs to be covered, and definite goals will be set.
It is entirely possible to coach a group of people together, because they will all be learning the same skills, with the same objectives.
A good coaching program can help people achieve real transformation in their lives very quickly:
What is Mentoring?
Mentoring is less common than coaching, but it is an extremely valuable service. A mentor helps the mentee (the person being mentored) to make big-picture improvements in their life or career.
A mentoring program will always be a long-term relationship rather than a short-term program. Mentors often work with their mentees for many years.
Mentoring programs do have a structure and overall objective, but these are softer and more flexible. The mentor and the mentee will drive the program together, working on areas where either feels improvements are needed.
“He’s tough, but fair,” Nancy says of her mentor. When Nancy need help ramping up her new marketing company, she turned to Jim for advice. He showed her how to bring her skills up to date.
“He opened up a whole new range of career opportunities for me, just as my solid brand marketing skills ran the risk of becoming old school.”
In one case, he persisted in advising her to rework a piece of writing, even though she thought it was finished.
“At first, I was very stubborn. But I have to admit that the rewritten piece still had my voice but was more intelligent and engaging. You are never too old to be mentored!”
A mentoring program will not focus on specific skills, but rather on broader personal development. A mentor will typically help the mentee:
The agenda will fluid and flexible, adapting as the relationship develops over time. The relationship is always ‘one to one’ - no group mentoring. This is because the needs of every mentee will be different, and the program must be customized to meet these individual requirements.
A good mentoring program is all about long-term improvement, rather than short-term transformation.
Lori Hunt gives a great definition of a mentor in her Ted Talk:
“A mentor helps you see what you can't see in yourself, and gives you the tools to make the right decisions. One day of mentoring can change a life forever. Be that mentor!"
Check out her talk for yourself and be inspired!
So although there is some common ground, it is clear that mentoring and coaching are very different in many ways.
Here is a quick summary of the distinctions:
Suitable for groups
"I enjoy teaching my mentees how to create success in their lives. Seeing them achieve important goals is priceless."
Jodi was looking for another layer of meaning to her life. She had recently left the business world to raise her young family. After considering her options, she found out about the Take Stock in Children mentoring program. The program’s flexibility and the opportunity to help a low-income teen go to college were a perfect fit for her.
Jodi has been mentoring for four years now. In one session, she showed her mentees the power of setting goals and writing them down to keep on track.
One of her mentee’s ambitions was to showcase her art during an international art festival. Focused and driven, the mentee was able to feature her work and sell three of her paintings during the festival.
For Jodi, mentoring has given her life more meaning. She believes 100% that education is the great equalizer. Her own family was so inspired by her work that her husband also became a mentor.
Blurring the Lines
Although mentoring and coaching are distinct disciplines, many programs blur the lines between the two and offer the best of both options.
For example, in our Go Entrepreneur program, we help people create an online income, so they can go anywhere, do anything and be anyone. There are two parts to the program:
Mentoring: Getting clarity on your business idea, developing a business plan, executing effectively, and scaling the business.
Coaching: Focusing on specific tasks such as business setup, online marketing, building a team, managing growth, creating an exit strategy.
This blended approach has been very successful in propeling many entrepreneurs from startup to success in double-quick time.
For Coachees and Mentees
If you want to make big improvements in your life, then you can make massive progress by hiring coaches and mentees to help you. For sure, this will cost you some money - perhaps quite a lot.
But the return on investment can be extraordinary. Let’s say you $10,000 on hiring a mentor to help you launch a business, and that business goes on to make $1 million in profit. Your return on investment is 100:1. That’s impressive by any standards!
The most successful mentors and coaches typically invest in hiring their own mentors and coaches. That’s because they understand the extraordinary value that great training, education and advice can deliver.
For Coaches and Mentors
If you have specialist skills, expertise and experience, then your are in a great position to consider becoming a coach or mentor. You might consider joining an organization like Toastmasters, where mentorship is a key element in the education program.
The wealth of knowledge you have may not seem exceptional to you. But to someone who is climbing the ladder behind you, it can be transformational. A career as a mentor/coach is not only profitable, it is rewarding and fascinating.
Just imagine the pride you will feel when you see your prodigies go on to achieve amazing success thanks to your help. That is truly giving back to your fellow man.
If you are looking for a new career option, mentoring and/or coaching may be an excellent option for you. Nowadays, mentoring and coaching programs are often conducted online. You never need to meet face to face. That makes both options ideal for creating a location-independent income.
Mentoring or Coaching?
Both mentoring and coaching are extremely valuable services that really make a difference in people’s lives.
“[My mentor] is the reason why I got into mentoring myself. She made all the difference in the world to me, and now I want to do the same for others,” says mentee (and now also mentor) Christina.
Elaine and Christina are a classic example of the student becoming the teacher! They met when Elaine was a recently retired dental assistant and an empty nester who missed the bond she developed with her children early in their lives. Christina was a painfully shy and sad-faced first grader who suffered anxiety attacks.
Elaine helped to bring Christina out of her shell and blossom as a young woman. Elaine is delighted with her progress. Elaine, meanwhile, beams with the pride when talking about Christina.
“I admire the person she has become and the friendship we will always have together. The feeling of helping someone else, seeing a positive change and knowing you had something to do with it makes it all worth it.”
Make the Most of the Opportunity
Buddha once said, “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”
Whether you are the student or the teacher, now is the time to make the most of what mentoring and coaching can offer to everyone involved.