The Difference: Coaching Versus Mentoring

Some words in our lexicon are overused, misused, and applied to this, that, and the other thing. After a while, the words get so muddled that they lose their original meaning and preciseness. And this has happened to the term “coach,” and likewise to the term “mentor,” which are often confused in some circles as identical twins.

However, these descriptive appellations do not mean one and the same thing, even though they are often used interchangeably. And to make matters worse, the words “coach” and “coaching” have been bandied about with such frequency of late that the significance of the title “coach,” and the practices of “coaching,” have gotten twisted beyond recognition, too.

So what exactly is the difference between the words “coach” and “mentor”? This is the gray area where the greatest confusion exists. Explaining the difference between “coaching” and “mentoring” is the most appropriate place to get started in sorting out this mess. Throughout this book, coaches are regularly referred to as managers on the business frontlines. Indeed, there are increasing numbers of men and women who manage people not as “managers” anymore but “coaches.”

But there are also many independent “coaching consultants,” or external coaches, brought into companies from the outside. Chapter 5 will arm you with a mother lode of details on this valuable auxiliary aspect of coaching.

Is coaching the same as mentoring?

Although there are many similarities and intersecting methodologies, they are not identical. Actually, one of the skill sets within coaching is mentoring. Many coaches are also mentors to their employees. Generally speaking, mentoring is a more informal and open-ended relationship than is coaching.

Coaches in managerial roles employ coaching applications that revolve around setting goals and establishing comprehensive performance plans for their employees — with, and this is key, their individual staff members an integral part of the whole enchilada.

In other words, coaches work in close cooperation with their people — on a one-on-one basis — to cultivate healthy and productive work environments. They endeavor to forge breeding grounds for the expansion of knowledge and multiplying of skills. By venturing down this constructive route, coaches strive to increase employee job satisfaction, overall efficiency in the office, and — of course — the company's bottom line. Coaching is nothing if not results-oriented.

There are many differences between coaches and mentors. The most overt distinction is that, in most instances, coaching is a paying job — be it internal or external — whereas mentoring is a voluntary setup. Mentoring relationships regularly exist informally on the business scene, and are not specific, full-time job roles.

A coach can also be a mentor — and often is. This is why the duo of coaching and mentoring often stand side by side in book titles (like this one), in management seminars, and in training video workshops. This is also why there is so much confusion. The terms are inextricably linked and for very good reasons. Both coaches and mentors are bound by a common desire to enlarge human possibilities by judiciously guiding people and encouraging them to better themselves in atmospheres of ongoing learning. Both coaches and mentors work intimately with individuals. Dinosaur managers do no such things.

If, however, you delve a little deeper, you see that mentoring is quite distinct from coaching in some of its practices. And when mentoring stands on its own two legs, as it often does, it is hardly a carbon copy of coaching. The rest of this chapter discusses mentoring as a distinct entity and furnishes you with indispensable tips on how to mentor like a — well — proficient mentor.

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