Mentor? Coach? What's the Difference?

Amanda Dreher - Monday, November 27, 2017


Liz Selzer, PhD, MA, MDiv

I often get asked this question, and admittedly there are conflicting assertions out there about what role a mentor and coach play in personal and professional development. While I would not argue this to my grave, I knew I had to come to an understanding of these two terms if I was to stay relevant in the leadership development industry.
Mentoring, by my definition, is “a reciprocal and collaborative learning relationship between two or more people who share mutual accountability for helping a mentee work toward integrated personal and professional development and work synergistically toward organizational goals.”


Coaching, by definition, is a set of skills for managing employee performance to deliver results. Coaching is a form of development in which a person called a coach supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance.


In essence, the key difference is the integrated aspect to mentoring that I do not believe works the same in coaching.


•Mentors take a more integrated look at their mentees’ lives as a whole. Coaches are concerned with the aspects of life that affect professional performance.
•Mentors are biased in favor of the mentee, coaches are more impartial, and keep an objectivity to help them see what behaviors need to change to improve performance.
•Mentors are person-focused, looking at their mentee from all aspects that affect their life and decisions. Coaches are job-focused and are recognized for how effectively their coaching improves professional performance.
•Mentors are a sounding board, often letting mentees work their issues out through guided problem solving. Coaches are more directive and instructive, helping their clients to learn new skills and improve existing ones.
•Mentoring and coaching use the same skills and approach but coaching is short term task-based and mentoring is a longer-term relationship.



Both mentoring and coaching are key strategies for personal and professional development, and the best leaders work with both. Life long learning is an important part of being a strong leader, and both mentoring and coaching use the power of relationship to help leaders go one step further in their influence.
There are “Life Coaches” who are much more like a mentor than a regular business coach. They are an exception to this differentiation.


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