Eight differentiators between workplace coaching and mentoring

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

Women mentors - Cummings Collaborative
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I know I need someone. Should I get a Coach or a Mentor?

Curiosity with coaching and mentoring has surfaced in many conversations recently. Questions seeking clarity on the differences keep coming up. Almost as if someone scripted these chats, everyone winds up sharing wild stories from previous work experiences.

Interestingly, our stories typically stem from well-intentioned, yet ill-planned, choices in leadership and staff development.

After stepping back from several of these conversations, I had an epiphany. Of course there’s confusion between coaching and mentoring in the workplace! The terms are being unintentionally used as if they mean the same thing.

These terms have become so muddied; most people don’t know that there is a true difference between the two. How coaching or mentoring might benefit a person and the team seems oddly similar. There isn’t a clear working operational definition that can lead to solid decision-making or resource allocation.

So, what is workplace coaching and mentoring?

In a nutshell, coaching ensures that a specific skill set(s) is learned, the focus is on the professional role of that individual and is short-term in nature.

Mentoring is larger in scope than skill set acquisition - it’s transformational for that individual, focuses on the whole person not just their career and is long-term due to the depth of relationship-building required to be deeply rooted in trust.

Renowned institutes, think-tanks, and bodies of research are dedicated solely to this topic. These entities focus on why, how, and when to implement coaching programs or mentoring programs within companies.

Let’s be real, though. Every distinguishing factor is important in guiding you to make well-informed decisions. So, keep reading below. Here you’ll learn eight differentiators between coaching and mentoring in the workplace.

Transformation - Coaching strives to impact professional behavioral transformation; doing something better. Mentoring aspires to create meaningful personal transformation; becoming someone better.

Emphasis - Coaching is mostly about concrete professional skill development. Mentoring focuses on the whole person, creating safe spaces so the mentee can share critical issues impacting the intersections of their professional and personal lives.

Duration - Coaching is provided over a short period of time. Mentoring is a long-term relationship that evolves with time and commitment.

Motivator - Coaching exists to improve current performance. Mentoring is pursued to grow the individual for future opportunities.

Delivery - Coaching relies on technology and online platforms to deliver content. Mentoring showcases people relationships; often through face-to-face sessions (live or electronic).

Performance - Coaching helps poor performing employees; it’s remedial. Mentoring is never remedial; it doesn’t focus on current professional roles.

Benefit - Coaching benefits the person being coached; the coach does not expect to gain insight. Mentoring serves the mentee and mentor; both gain new insights and awareness from the relationship.

Perspective - Coaching hones in on the effectiveness of the person within the business. Mentoring highlights the interconnections of the individual as a whole person within the business and the world.

As you can see, there are very clear differences between workplace coaching and mentoring.

Coaching and mentoring are targeted at employees with completely different goals and desired outcomes. Individuals who are looking for the specific focus on professional skill development should probably pursue a coach. Individuals mastering the interconnections they have between work and life balance should engage with a mentor.

The Collaborative chooses to showcase mentoring as one of our primary services. Mentoring, while growing that individual into a better person, can also refine leadership culture and infuse the team with successful organizational visioning.

We have a passion for mentoring executive women and aspiring female leaders. We love the honor of being chosen to walk alongside this female who is as equally vested in us as we are her. Who seek the deep, long-term committed, trust-filled relationship that can go anywhere and grow anyone. For us, mentoring her to become someone better, more equipped for what lies ahead - this is what it’s all about. Mentoring is one of our greatest joys and one of our greatest strengths.

For your situation, or your company scenario, it should be clear now. This should help guide you in deciding whether you should pursue a coach or a mentor. There is a difference. They are not the same. Take time to know which one will best serve you. Then make the decision to invest in your self; you deserve it!

If you know you need a mentor, give us a call. We’d love to set up a complementary Discovery Session and help you establish your priorities. 407.720.7168.


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Chief Collaborator,

Nancy H. Cummings, EdD

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