Pragmatic advice for coaches, managers & leaders

Coaching vs Mentoring: A wholly pointless debate?

When I work with clients there is very often some confusion over the difference between what a coach and a mentor might be bringing to the relationship. I’m not sure at this point in the development of both professions that a high proportion of business clients care that much about the distinction but the question is should you?

Here’s my brief take on it – not an exhaustive list but some key points.

An Executive Coach

1. Does not need to have had “domain experience” in the area of the client i.e. I can coach you effectively, regardless of whether you work in finance, retail or pharma, albeit that I have never worked in these sectors

2. Through skilful questioning and paying attention an executive coach (any good coach !) will help you to identify your own goals and the way that you can go about achieving them

3. Will often work into the areas of motivation, blockers and elements of psychology in order to help develop you

4. Works hard at building rapport

5. Has “equality” or less, in terms of the relevant “power” within the professional relationship

A Business Mentor

1. Has usually had a great degree of domain experience within the area of the client, or has experience of the business position i.e. if you have been a CEO you may be a great business mentor to other CEOs, regardless of sector

2. Will either guide or recommend a way forward if not the objectives themselves

3. A business mentor uses skilful questions and paying attention as integral skills

4. Works hard at building rapport

5. Holds a lot of the “power” within the professional relationship

So what?

Both can be incredibly powerful as a way of helping business folk (and others) move themselves and their organisations forward in hugely beneficial ways. And it really doesn’t matter if you disagree with my two lists above (actually it would be a bit weird if it was exactly the same as yours) – go make your own.

You may be thinking about rebranding your business, launching your Google+ account, starting some off-line marketing and if you are, it’s better to get this right now because as people increasingly understand what they might expect from these very specialised roles, you better be pretty clear about which you are. Or, be clear that you do a bit of both …

… But please don’t say you are a “marketing coach” and then not ask any questions of your client and lead them by the nose to every solution because you have “been there and got the T-shirt”. They might be expecting a more collaborative approach. Equally, don’t position yourself as a Leadership Mentor when all you do is ask tough questions but don’t add any value because you choose to remain non-directive in your style or don’t have any experience upon which to draw.

Be clear. Be proud. Be open. Be more effective.

Your turn (add a comment about these questions):

What do you think the main differences are between coaching and mentoring?

What client experiences do you have about people getting mixed up between the two?

Photo thanks: Walt Stonbeburner


If you would like help with executive coaching in your organisation or want to work with me as a coaching mentor (see what I did there?) email me here or glenn(at)