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When to Mentor and when to Coach

It’s a common cause of confusion for leaders and managers; what’s the difference and does it even matter? Isn’t it just helping people? It’s important to know the difference because it helps set expectations for the people you are helping...

When to Mentor and when to Coach

Firstly let’s look at the dictionary definitions:

Mentoring: To advise or train (someone less experienced)
Coaching: A process that enables learning and development to occur and therefore performance to improve

If you are looking for a Coach, know what to look for by reading our free guide on How to choose a Coach.

There are many similarities, some definitions use the words train, advise, guide and learning interchangeably. Many professional services organisations use mentoring formally to help encourage the transfer of knowledge and experience. Sports coaching very specifically involves giving instructions and teaching. Executive or Life Coaching tends to be more open and exploratory and less instructive. You use a training approach in any of these if skills development is required.

If you are an organisation looking to use these approaches to develop your employees, get clear in your own mind as to what skills are required. Mentors often need to develop the ability to understand how to get information across for people who don’t think the same way as them. Just being good at your profession is not enough.


If you are a leader or manager who might use either of the approaches these pointers will help you to do this effectively:

Ascertain which method is most helpful to the other person in this context
It’s important to know where the person you are working with is in their own professional development before deciding which approach to take. If they are experienced then a coaching approach might help to tease out an answer that is better for them, if they are inexperienced or new to the organisation, as coaching approach might be too vague or make them feel like they are being tricked into a certain answer, which erodes trust. The question to ask yourself is ‘What can I reasonable expect this person to know?’

Frame what you are doing clearly
In the process of communication, confusion often happens because of poor framing. If you do some mentoring and some coaching with your team, frame first what you are going to do. For example:

‘This seems like a technical dilemma so I’m going to run through a few approaches that have worked for me’ - Mentoring

‘You seem to get stuck with these kinds of issues often, shall we set aside half an hour to explore what’s behind the stuck feeling you get and see if we can find a better way for you?’ - Coaching

Then the other person know’s what you are going to do and has the opportunity to say if that’s not what they need. People hate being coached when they really just need an answer and they hate being told what to do when they just need some support to find the best way for themselves.

Is your professional expertise enough to give you a successful career? Watch this short video to find out why they might not be and what else will give you the edge.

Find out more about our Mind Mastery programmes which combine an ILM Coaching & Mentoring qualification with an internationally accredited certification in Neuro Lingusitic Programming (NLP).

Blog photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
Last modified onTuesday, 29 May 2018 12:08
 John McLachlan

Founder of Monkey Puzzle and an INLPTA NLP Master Trainer, John is also a Clinical Hypnotherapist and author of the award winning book Real Leaders for the Real World. His new book Time Mastery; Banish Time Management Forever is out now.

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