Mentoring Versus Coaching: What’s the Difference?

Friday, August 8, 2014

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Sometimes people use the words “mentoring” and “coaching” interchangeably, but they do not describe the same type of working relationship. Both share basic organizational goals including employee learning and development that leads to peak performance, and the realization of full potential. However, the definition, focus, role, approach, and tools of each are different.

Definition and Focus

  • Mentoring: A more informal association focused on building a two-way, mutually beneficial relationship for long-term career movement.
  • Coaching: A more formal structured association focused on improvements in behavior and performance to resolve present work issues or handle specific aspects of the job.


  • Mentoring: Talking with a person who has identified his needs prior to entering into a mentoring relationship. The emphasis is on active listening, providing information, making suggestions, and establishing connections.
  • Coaching: Talking to a person, identifying what he needs, and developing an action plan. The emphasis is on instruction, assessing, and monitoring.


  • Mentoring: This is a self-directed modus operandi whereby participants have choices. This approach can begin with a self-matching process and continue throughout the relationship using a committed timeline to determine how often and where individuals will meet, identify goals, and so forth.
  • Coaching: A structured modus operandi is more frequently used whereby participants are working within a narrower perspective; their agenda is more specific, shorter in duration, and oriented toward certain results. Usually a coach is assigned to an employee.


  • Mentoring: The most important tool is the Mentoring Agreement—developed, completed, and signed by both participants. This document formalizes commitment to the mentoring relationship. Items include individual goals, learning content, a meeting schedule, and communication methods.
  • Coaching: Depending on the individual situation, various assessment instruments can be used such as skills training activities and teaching evaluations. A contract can be issued regarding the problem to be resolved or skills to be learned.

Although differences exist between mentoring and coaching, they do share some comparable characteristics as well:

  • Defined roles allow individuals to envision the achievement of desired goals.
  • Working relationships require trust, respect, open communication, and flexibility.
  • Stakeholders include new hires, new managers, and staff promoted to senior-level positions.
  • Training, education, and orientation are necessary.
  • Success is best achieved when senior leaders understand the return on investment, and expectations regarding engagement, performance, and retention are being achieved.
  • The mission is to meet both individual and organization goals.

An organization is not required to choose between mentoring and coaching. Each one enhances an individual’s ability to contribute to the organization’s goals. Consider how these two activities can fulfill the expectations of individuals, managers, and senior-level executives, while simultaneously accomplishing the organization’s employee development and succession planning goals. Additionally, consideration for the level of the value that these programs bring to the table and the benefits people feel will be gained.
Learn more about mentoring partnerships from Creating a Mentoring Program, available now.

Check out similar articles: Mentoring Is About Connection

About the Author

Annabelle Reitman has more than 40 years of experience in career coaching and counseling, specializing in résumé development that targets clients’ individualized professional stories. She also does short-term coaching for people in work transitions, enabling them to successfully continue their career journey. Reitman is an established writer and author in the career and talent management arenas. She is a co-author of ATD's Career Moves (2013) and contributed the Take charge of Your Career: Breaking Into & Advancing in the T&D Profession Chapter to the  ASTD Handbook, 2nd edition (2014). Reitman holds doctorate and master’s degrees in higher education administration from Teachers College, Columbia University.

About the Author

Sylvia Ramirez Benatti brings more than 20 years of experience in the nonprofit sector as a trainer and consultant and university professor in nonprofit management.

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The International Coach Federation defines coaching as "partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential."
In my experience, coaching isn't as constrained as it is portrayed here. Coaching also is informed by the agreement between the coach, the coachee, and the organization. I've also found that some coaching programs offer an employee choice about their coach.
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I really learnt important aspects on the difference between mentoring and coaching. What is imperative to say is that the article assisted me in my post graduate diploma in leadership and educational management. It allowed me to evaluate my own mentoring programme I did at the school.
Valuable and inspirational too.
Thank you.
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