Coaching vs. Mentoring: How to get the best of both worlds

Coaching vs. Mentoring: How to get the best of both worlds

The amount of literature on professional development could easily fill a library at this point. But even with all the voices in the mix, there are misunderstandings as theory meets reality. Determining the purpose and benefits coaching and monitoring is a perfect example of this issue. 

When it comes to the subjects of coaching and mentoring, the majority of the confusion is due to experts approaching them incorrectly. Each practice can be invaluable, but they are often pitted against each other as if they are mutually exclusive.

You’re not choosing to buy a Mac or a PC, here. So let’s stop seeing this discussion as a debate about who’s good and who’s not, and instead focus on how to coordinate both services so that they complement each other to empower the individual.



When you are looking for structure, intellectual education, and theory, look to a coach. Essentially, coaches exist to empower the unique strengths of their client.

Coaches will work with their client to identify communication styles, leadership strengths, and complimentary behaviors that can then be empowered and amplified to help the client stand out authentically.

Expect probing questions and self-discovery in every session.

Great coaches are trained and certified in evidence-based techniques that help not only pinpoint the strengths of their client but also expedite the process to give the client the more input in less time. That being said, I want to also note that positive changes will only occur if the client is willing to take the input and act upon it.

Sessions with coaches will also be much more discussion-based. The client should expect probing questions and self-discovery in every session. Some coaches will shadow the client through their daily activities while others focus more on the structured closed-door discussions.

Specific attributes to expect from a coach include:

  • Intellectual approach to professional development

  • Challenging the individual through probing questions and expanding perspectives

  • Encouraging and empowering the unique traits and strengths of each individual rather than diminishing weaknesses



Coaches shine in their use of empirical, evidence-based practices, mentors focus on using experience to teach their mentees.

Mentors will use examples from their past to pass on wisdom to those under their mentorship. Lessons learned from successes and failures will act as the curriculum of the mentorship program.

Often the mentor leads their mentee by example, pointing out pitfalls and risks that are not obvious to unweathered. Like privates joining the veterans on the battlefield, the mentor takes the rookie under their wing to teach them the tricks of the trade.

One of the easiest ways they can help increase the likelihood of their mentee’s success is by connecting them to other successful people.

The structure of this experience is much more free-flowing, often occurring in real-time to amplify the lessons learned from each experience. The mentor will rarely set sessions focused on self-discovery.

Instead, a budding executive often uses the mentor as a primary point of reference. The mentor will be able to provide direct market or company knowledge and often explain the subject matter in a way that is more palatable to the mentee, as the verbiage will be directly from their working environment.

Not only is experiential knowledge abundant within a mentorship, another fantastic benefit is taking advantage of the networking opportunities afforded to the mentee. The mentor often becomes attached to their mentee, truly wanting to see them succeed.

One of the easiest ways they can help increase the likelihood of their mentee’s success is by connecting them with other successful people. This is one of the greatest tools in the mentor’s arsenal.

Specific attributes of a mentorship experience include:

  • Experiential knowledge and teaching styles

  • Direct market knowledge

  • A fantastic reference point to improve in-field productivity

  • Providing connections and networking opportunities


Last Thought

Mentors will emphasize experiential education while some coaches will approach the client with more structure. However, if you approach coaching and mentorship with clear expectations of each practice, then every positive outcome can be amplified.

Don’t limit yourself to one or the other when both together provide so many additional opportunities.



Posted in Coaching, Improvement, Team Development and tagged , , , , , , .

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