There seems to be some confusion centered around coaching and mentoring, and whether they are the same thing or not. While they are typically terms used interchangeably, really, they are two separate beasts, each ideal for different situations. The first step to determining the difference between coaching and mentoring is to identify what a coach does.

A coach, in all its various incarnations will always focus on the performance of an individual. Perhaps you need a new job skill, but are having trouble moving forward with it. Maybe you have developed some mental hang-ups or blocks. A coach helps you identify these obstacles, and has the specific agenda of helping you overcome them.

Coaching is about the way an individual performs. While coaching and mentoring are seemingly synonymous words, mentoring is actually more about personal growth. There is an informality inherent in the definition of a mentor that allows both individuals involved to feel less rigid within the relationship. Although mentoring can be used as a tool to improve an individual's performance, as a whole it is more focused on the personal growth of that individual in the grander scheme of things.

Still unclear about the difference between coaching and mentoring?

Consider the following sports analogy: A football coach is on the sidelines calling the plays and telling the player how to get the job done. He is focused on a specific goal--making individual successful plays to score points and ultimately win the game.

A mentor, on the other hand is like the Quarterback. He isn't calling the plays or telling the players what to do, he is down on the field, in the game, helping the team make the plays that lead to that eventual goal. A mentor is not just interested in instructing and teaching specific actionable steps. A mentor will be willing to work within the relationship--recognizing that working with the individual is often called for to get to those actionable "plays" that lead to the goal.

One final key difference between coaching and mentoring is the time frame involved. Coaching is somewhat short-term and more specific. It is seeing that a task is accomplished and a goal met. Mentoring conversely is about setting and achieving ongoing goals, and creating a balanced relationship designed to provide guidance that not only achieves those goals, but also focuses on the growth of the individual as a whole.

Overall, both coaching and mentoring are valuable tools for moving forward in any aspect of life or career. But clearly defining the difference between the two may be useful to companies or leaders when looking for and choosing a program or system that will create the best environment for individual and team growth.

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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina