Coach Vs Mentor – A Simple Comparison

The coach vs mentor – what’s the difference? This article will explain the coach versus mentor relationship in organisational learning.

It’s often hard to decipher between the two; there are a lot of similarities between coaching and mentoring someone.

Either way, you’d normally use broadly similar skills, like:

  • Active listening;
  • The ability to clarify things;
  • The ability to challenge ideas and behaviours;
  • Questioning techniques;
  • The ability to reframe thinking.

Both mentoring and coaching share one-to-one discussions and both also aim to develop skills, knowledge and performance of an individual or group.

In the book, Coaching and Mentoring for Dummies, they highlight “being a coach means that you see and approach the role of manager as a leader – one who challenges and develops your employees skills and abilities to achieve the best performance results, and to function as self-sufficient as possible.“

In other words, coaching someone can normally be done by a manager or a leader. It’s a process of continuing to develop employees’ skills, so they can be more autonomous and competent in their role.

Harvard Business Essentials identify mentoring as, “Offering a broader scope than coaching, which focuses on specific skills or behaviours. Mentors are advisors who offer career advice and if asked, share their life experiences, observations and philosophy. Mentors act as a sounding board. They are there when their protégés need them.”

Mentors can be anyone who has had previous experience and act as support when needed.

Coach Vs Mentor – Comparison

Here’s a direct comparison between a coach vs mentor framework:

Coaching in General

Coaching is normally a more formal process. There is typically a start and end point for each coaching program, with a target of increasing a persons’ skill-set and experience, or improving their behaviour in the role you’re discussing.

Coaching sessions normally take place at set intervals and are structured around the goals of what the individual and the coach has agreed. The agenda is normally set by the manager and it’s generally non-directive.

A coaching program is heavily emphasised on the performance of the person and provides feedback on the strengths and weaknesses at the same time.

Mentoring in General

In comparison, mentoring is very much more informal in its nature. The mentor discusses things with the mentee, normally around what the mentee wants help and guidance on. The mentoring program can be ongoing and last for years – specifically to help the mentee achieve their career goals and objectives.

Depending on the type of mentoring, it’s not uncommon for the mentee to seek advice when they need it.

Whilst a coach doesn’t necessarily direct the conversation, a mentor can provide insight into their experiences and how they overcame a challenge.

Equally, where the coach is normally a person’s leader, a mentor is an expert or a senior skilled person in a role that the mentee is in or seeking to move into.

This means that whilst a leader can coach and mentor an employee in their career, a person may have mentors outside the employee / employer relationship, who are specialists – people that generally have been there and done it before.

In fact, a person can have several mentors, helping and guiding them through many disciplines.

Often more formal with defined sessionsCan happen when the mentee needs advice
There’s more than likely a clear start and finish point to the coaching cycleMentoring can go on for a long time, with no clear start and finish points
Coaching can focus on a specific skill(s)Mentoring can be a broad brush, covering a wide range of elements
Sessions are typically driven by the coachSessions are typically driven by the mentee
Heavily focused on performance of the personFocused on listen to challenges and helping overcome them

Examples of a Coach vs Mentor Relationship:


  • A line manager provides regular coaching sessions over six weeks, to help improve an individual’s performance;
  • A supervisor provides daily coaching over two months, to help develop an employees’ skills on running a machine independently;
  • A manager coaches an individual on a specific skill to master, as part of their development plan.


  • A senior consultant supports a junior consultant through their 18 month development plan, helping them improve in their role, in view of becoming a consultant;
  • An executive mentors a middle manager, in view of progressing to senior management level over the next three years;
  • An experienced project manager mentors a relatively inexperienced team member to take the lead on a new IT system implementation.

Notice a subtle difference between a mentor session and a coaching session? They are both powerful in their own right, but often slightly different in their approach and time of use.

Mentoring typically lasts longer than coaching, because coaching aims at developing a behaviour and a specific skill; mentoring is normally longer and focuses on larger career development and a vast range of cumulative skills.

The two techniques can be used at the same time with the same individual, as well.

For instance, Sarah may be mentored by a senior executive, to allow her to step into the Chief Executive position over the next 18 months.

Whilst she is being mentored, she also has a specialist coach that is helping her implement a continuous improvement system across the business, to help build a continuous improvement culture.

Here, the mentor shares challenges and ideas when she needs to reflect on how to grow into the role. The coach, specifically coaches her through developing a continuous improvement framework.

The Benefits of Coaching and Mentoring

Here’s how they can both help.

Improved Self Awareness and Reflection

When both mentoring and coaching, employees are required to self reflect. This means that rather than asking for someone to do something for them, they stop and think about the current situation or challenge.

Then in view of this, the mentor and coach help guide them to the next step, with the focus on the individual learning from mistakes and situations, and implementing new ideas.

This means that in a coaching and mentoring culture, a habit of self reflection naturally develops over time. This reflection-and-improvement cycle helps accelerate learning and continuous improvement.

Better Social Skills and Networks

A Mentor may not necessarily be from the same department as their mentee. This approach can often condition individuals into habitually expanding out of their comfort zones, in order to find answers and solutions to their problems from wider networks.

As a result, it bridges gaps often found in those that don’t engage in mentoring and coaching, and who just stay within their departmental bubbles.

With better networks and greater natural collaboration, you can expect improved problem-solving, faster learning, and greater innovation, as well as better relationships, which can have a positive impact on engagement.

Effective Career Progression and Development

Good coaching and mentoring programs can rapidly improve learning in the business. By creating a culture of learning through mentoring and coaching, you are encouraging every manager to think of career progression and personal development across their teams and for themselves.

By replacing, “How do i do this” kind of question, to “Who can help guide me,” can accelerate the need to learn and find people who can improve capability across the business.

In turn, you’ll have more competent and capable teams.

With more competent teams, productivity and Improved business performance often result.

It’s a Safer Place to Learn

Being able to learn under the guidance of someone, helps derisk the learning process. In other words, chances are, you won’t make the same mistake as somebody with a little more experience than you, who’s already been there and done it.

On the other side of the coin, the simple process of coaching and mentoring, means it’s okay to make mistakes. You are in a safe environment where the act of making a mistake, forces reflection and discussion. Reflection allows the individual to learn and improve for next time.

This philosophy can help promote a no blame culture. Instead of pointing the blame when something goes wrong, people tend to accept mistakes, and get excited that improved change is coming!

Reduce the Cost of Learning

Having specialists to mentor staff and managers who can coach well, means that there is less need for more formal and external training.

In fact, the 70-20-10 model suggests that most of our learning in the workplace comes from experiential (70%) and collaborative learning (20%).

Having people who can accelerate learning through structured guidance and advice, can also mean that less money may be spent on external training providers, when in accordance to this model, they not be needed as much as one thinks.

In fact, in a study from Brandon Hall group, they identified that coaching and mentoring was seen as the most effective method of learning in business.

Reduces Staff Turnover

In a CNBC / Survey Monkey, Workplace Happiness Study, 9 out of 10 people that had a career mentor were happy in their roles.

Equally in a UK city and guilds study, 76% of UK professionals believed coaching is useful to help go through change.

In other words, through the support that mentoring and coaching gives, we can help solidify roles, and our position in the business. We can increase confidence and commitment and make it a happier place to work.

Coach Vs Mentor- What Next?

In order to be effective as a business, ideally, you should implement both coaching and mentoring. There is a place for other training techniques as well, but these two combined can have a drastic impact in how people in the business learn.

As a manager, you should be looking at how you can coach your teams on a day by day basis as a standard protocol in your role.

If You are a senior manager, leading the business, you should expect all of your managers to be able to coach. To get started, we’ve written a guide on the book, The Coaching Habit, which is a framework for all managers to be able to use to coach others.

Creating a program of mentoring, is also a very good idea. Are there experienced employees that can help mentor others? Are there opportunities within specific people and positions that could benefit from mentoring? We’ve written a guide tips on developing a mentor and mentee framework.