What is the difference between Coaching and Mentoring?

By Jan Murray on
When it comes to the question of "What is the difference between mentoring and coaching?" it appears that much confusion exists, and many different definitions abound. According to Coaching and Mentoring by Eric Parsloe and Melville Leedham, there are indeed many areas of overlap between mentoring and coaching as essentially both involve having purposeful, skilful conversations that effectively support performance, growth and development.

What is mentoring?

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.

With a mentor, a mentee is getting someone who's already been in their shoes, trodden a similar path. They are experienced in the mentee's field and can help fast-track their development. They can offer guidance and support, and there is usually a level of personal connection. They can save the mentee from having to go through a steep learning curve and making unnecessary mistakes by using their hindsight to provide foresight for the mentee.

What is coaching?

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

A coach takes a slightly different approach. He or she serves as an expert guiding in a very specific area of performance such as marketing, financial support, sales, business growth, social media etc.

A coach is trained to help an individual work out their roadblocks, hold them accountable for their business or career success and shares their tried-and-tested processes to help the individual get ahead.

Similarities between Coaching and Mentoring

There are many areas of overlap between coaching and mentoring. The following are suggested by Parsloe and Leedham:

  • Both involve conversations which raise performance and unlock potential
  • Both rely on the coach-mentor's skills of listening, questioning and feedback
  • Both require the coach-mentor to have a good understanding of people, organisations and the principles of learning
  • Both require confidentiality and clear contracting
  • Both require good governance, supervision, and effective processes to have the most impact

Differences between coaching and mentoring

The following are general principles rather than hard and fast rules.

Coaching Mentoring
Focus is usually on specific development areas/issues at work Focus is on career and personal development
Relationship usually has a set duration Ongoing relationship can last a long time
Generally more structured More informal
Short term and focusses on specific development issues More long term and takes a broader view of the person
Coaches generally don't need to have direct experience of their coachees occupational role Mentor is usually more experienced and qualified than the mentee and passes on knowledge and experience
Coaching can be performed by a line manager Mentoring is not performed by a line manager
Agenda is set by the coach Agenda is set by the mentee

Although it is helpful to look at the similarities and differences between coaching and mentoring there is a lot of overlap and often the most effective approach uses a blend of coaching and mentoring.

Benefits of mentoring and coaching

Whether you opt for coaching or mentoring, both can in their own ways have the following benefits.

Getting an outside perspective
Often, individuals are too close to their business or career to see what's truly happening. It can be beneficial to get an external view of their situation in order to probe and uncover some problems and issues that may not be instantly apparent to them.

Reach higher
Sometimes we do things for other people that we wouldn't do for ourselves. When an individual has the accountability of a mentor or coach, they may push harder to reach their goals and are more likely to stay focused.

Achieve greater success
A mentor-coach can help an individual stay positive and motivated, so they can keep their career moving forward. This is achieved through open, impartial discussions and feedback within a trusted and confidential relationship.

Seeing the bigger picture
It's often hard to see something for what it is when you're too close to it. A mentor-coach helps an individual to step back and see the bigger picture of their business or career. They'll encourage the individual to view it from alternative angles and perspectives, while helping the individual to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats they might have missed.

A safe space to discuss ideas and problems
A mentoring or coaching process will stimulate and challenge thinking while ensuring the individual's ideas and explanations are listened to. Through this, individuals are encouraged to formulate their own ideas and solutions to problems and challenges. Coming to a well-informed decision at a faster rate than they would alone.

Continually challenged
People can become complacent in their career. Coaches and mentors challenge individuals to think bigger and better. They'll encourage a person to go the extra mile to better themselves and reap the rewards. Ensuring they will be continually motivated to do more and do it better.

If you would like to find out more about PLD's mentoring and coaching platforms click here.

Book a demo

If you would like a demonstration of any of our software, give us a call on

01625 251 055