Coaching, Mentoring: Is There a Difference?

Most of us consider the words “coaching” and “mentoring” interchangeable and so find no difference between the two. But if we take a closer look, we can see clear differences in what their roles mean.

To cite Oxford English Dictionary;

Coaching: Teach and supervise (someone); act as a trainer or coach (to), as in sports.

Mentoring: Serve as a teacher or trusted counselor.

Although at first glance, the differences are not too obvious, description of the roles surely points in different directions. The dictionary definitions may vary, but the point of the matter is that these two words define two distinct practices. And for a very long time, this difference seemed quite obvious with ‘coaching’ exclusively restricted to sporting activities and ‘mentoring’ to career related guidance. However, with the evolution of technology, the boundaries started to disappear and people started using these words interchangeably and even added new terms like consultant, expert, instructor etc to the list.

Coaching and Mentoring: Roles Defined

So when does one require coaching? Say, you have a well defined target. And you need help in enhancing your natural skills through rigorous hardwork, practice sessions, expert tips and performance reviews. This calls in for a coach who has sufficient experience in training people like you to achieve similar objectives.

On the other hand, ‘mentoring’ is something that would be more appropriate when it comes to providing career planning, general advice, problem solving etc.

Although these two jobs may point at different roles, the skills and methods used are often the same and include excellent rapport between the coach/mentor and the ward/trainee, effective communication, keen powers of observation and regular feedback sessions. Both these roles include providing timely guidance on how to tackle challenges and often go for practical solutions rather than theoretical ones.

Let’s take a look at the similarities between coaching and mentoring.

They both:

· Call for frequent interaction with the individual concerned to identify their strengths and weaknesses.

· Involve devising strategies and plans to suit individual requirements and styles.

· Focus more on practical solutions rather than theoretical ones.

· Provide continuous feedback to evaluate the improvement and identify areas which require further attention.

· Maintain an open line of communication so that the ward/trainee can approach them with any problems.

In many cases, it has been observed that coaches, at times, mentor their ward and vice-versa. It is important to define the scope of services being offered from the outset.

When to choose mentoring or coaching?

Once you have identified that you need a professional help or expert opinion on something, you need to decide if you should go for coaching or mentoring.

Pick a coach when you need a professional to train you in improving your skills so that you may achieve your goal. A coach is often a professional who, depending on his area of expertise, may have more than one trainee under him at any given time. It is up to you to make sure if he will have adequate time for you.

Choose a mentor when you require general guidance to choose the right career path or help you in choosing goals or making decisions. A mentor needn’t necessarily be an elderly figure or a professional. Even your siblings or friends can be your mentor depending on your requirement.

As individuals, welcome all opportunities that will help you grow and evolve as a person. Mentoring and coaching are both excellent options in this regard.

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