One of the most commonly misunderstood and interchangeably used terms are coaching and mentoring. It is perhaps manageable when you use them interchangeably in informal conversation but in an organizational context, it’s extremely important to know the difference between mentoring and coaching.

Once you understand the distinctions it will be clear that you don’t need to be coaching mode all the time – there will always be situations where a new employee or less experienced individuals need mentoring not coaching.

Whether its the role of a coach or mentor, you will be guiding people to make the best decisions both for themselves and the organization. But when to apply to coach or mentor individuals is to be understood to get the best results

Distinguishing between Coaching and Mentoring

Below are the clear distinctions between coaching and mentoring, however many of these roles naturally can, and do overlap.

These specific roles will help you differentiate between the activities of a coach and that of a mentor. The process

The differences between coaching and mentoring

A Coach A Mentor
Creates space to think                Advises and suggests
Is non-judgemental May need to make judgments
Gives ownership Leads by example
Challenges   Helps to develop
Need not be an expert   Is usually more experienced
Takes a backseatStays together
Gives responsibility back Can feel responsible
Challenges beliefs, thoughts and behaviours      Shares knowledge and experience
Asks ‘What decision?’ Guides to a decision
Draws out examples and ideas Gives examples and ideas
Works with a fixe time frame May work over a long period
Focuses on specific development areasTakes a broader view

While the most rewarding outcomes from both coaching and mentoring will be realized in a structured, confidential (essential in any coaching relationship), one-to-one sessions, this does not mean you will never coach or mentor in a snatched moment in the corridor or lift.

If a member of staff asks a brief question, as a mentor you can give them an answer that will act as a quick fix (see also ‘Coaching on the spot’ below).

Knowing when to coach and when to mentor

Knowing when to coach and when to mentor
Knowing when to coach and when to mentor

There will be opportunities both to coach and to mentor throughout the day. The key is to be sure of which technique you are using and of the rationale behind it.

For example, as a mentor with more expertise than your mentee:

Rahul: Oh, Mr. Amir, can you give me the setting up client portal?

Mr. A: Yes, of course. I’ll email a few bullet points when I’m back at my desk in a few minutes.

Rahul: Great, thanks.

In a coaching exercise it’s important to have brief coaching exchanges to foster responsibility in your coachees:

Rahul: Mr. Ali, I have set up the portal but I am not fully sure how to launch it. Can you help?

Mr A: Yes. Have you got any idea where this information may be stored?

Rahul: Well, I guess Amit may have the details as he set this up initially on the old system. I could certainly ask him.

Mr. A: Yes, that sounds like a good idea. Anything else that occurs to you?

Gill: Yes, the new clients’ portal launch details are logged automatically as they log on to the system so I could ask Isha if she can transfer them over.

Mr. A: Excellent. That seems to be settled, then.

As you have now seen, Mr A could have easily given all this information to Rahul. But by using the skills of questioning, probing, and objective listening, he has enabled him to find a solution. Additionally, it helps people build skills and gain confidence, they will not keep bothering others with questions; it encourages them to be self-reliant and problem solver.

Very understandably, people who have received mentoring in the past tend to go back for further help. This may be appropriate but, as a leader, you perhaps want to encourage them to think things through before asking you for guidance. Coaching would help here. Through coaching, staff gain confidence and increase their knowledge.

As a leader, you may find that your staff become more independent and begin to make their own decisions. This will free you up to carry out your own role more effectively. You will need to select instinctively whether to use coaching or mentoring in such a situation. New staff and those new to a role will, for example, in the first instance need mentoring. Once they become more experienced, however, coaching may be the more appropriate method to encourage self-development.

Coaching on the spot

Coaching on the spot is a supportive conversation rather than a ‘telling’ one. It involves using some of the skills of coaching that all good managers already know:

  • Listening without judgment.
  • Staying with the person while they explain their needs.
  • Giving eye contact and full attention to the situation.
  • Allowing your questions to draw out the knowledge from the individual.
  • Supporting them to come to a decision.
  • Tapping into their own knowledge and skills.

Coaching does not always need a formal structure to be effective. It does, however, need trust, patience, skilled questions, sensitivity and the ability to create rapport. Above all, it requires you to

believe that your member of staff knows the answer. It requires you to put aside your need to ‘fix it’ for them: to allow them to own the task or find the solution that is best for them.

Coaching is always a two-way process

You should bear in mind that the relationship between you and your employees is the key to the success of coaching. Staying focused on them and allowing them time to think things through is vital to the results.

The quality of your listening will establish the quality of their thinking. I also recommend reading about the Grow Model of Coaching to get the complete overview

You may encounter resistance and challenges from your coachees, and they may cause you to rethink areas of your own role. When you begin coaching, one of the great by-products is your own self-development. Your ability to provide feedback to your coachee is an essential skill to overcome many challenges.

If you are willing to learn from your staff and to accept that some changes in your own behavior may be necessary, then your coaching will achieve greater acceptance.

Establishing the difference between coaching and mentoring

Establishing the difference between coaching and mentoring
Establishing the difference between coaching and mentoring

You should have a clear definition of what coaching is and be able to clarify the differences between coaching and mentoring. This ensures that the boundaries around giving advice and suggestions are clear and that coaching does not become confused with mentoring.

Both disciplines are invaluable for leaders and organizations. But these must be treated as separate methods of developing people.

It is useful in a session to make the coachee aware of the times when you are coaching. The session will be more productive if you manage to make this clear. Advice and suggestions (mentoring) may be offered at the end of the session if the situation demands.

For example:

Coach: I have some knowledge of this subject and would like to offer a suggestion. Would you like to hear about it?

Coachee: Yes please. (Or they may prefer to go away and try out their own idea first.)

As long as the offer is made in this way it will not intrude on the growth and self-esteem of the individual being coached.

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