The Difference Between Professional Coaching and Mentoring: A Comprehensive Guide

Coaching and mentoring are two terms that are often used interchangeably, but there are clear distinctions between the two.


is more performance-based and is designed to enhance the professional's performance at work. It focuses on improving a particular skill or helping the coach reach certain goals. On the other hand, mentoring is more development-oriented, taking a more comprehensive approach to professional development.

It emphasizes learner growth and concentrates on the transfer of skills and knowledge from the mentor to the learner. In the 1980s, coaching began to enter the business world, when Thomas Leonard, a financial planner, noticed that his clients were following his financial and life advice. He taught them how to organize their lives and, in doing so, brought off-court training to people's lives. This made the concept of life coaching a respected profession.

Mentoring is much more complex than that. It is a relationship focused on development in which the mentor shares specific knowledge, experiences and skills to help the learner gain insights, achieve development objectives and overcome obstacles to their professional and personal growth. Often, the mentor is someone in a high-level position, but this is not always the case. Structures such as reverse mentoring allow for unique mentoring relationships to occur.

Understanding Coaching and Mentoring

Before creating an employee development program or starting to establish an official training relationship, it is essential to understand what mentoring and coaching are, how they differ and in what aspects each type of function is valuable.

In her book, Mentoring Programs That Work, Jenn Labin explains that it's incredibly important to ensure that programs are designed with the desired results in mind (and to ensure that those results are met and can be measured). Ultimately, that outcome will influence whether a “training” or “mentoring” framework is used, and what terminology is ultimately used to describe the nature of the relationships between your development program. In fact, you can train without mentoring and you can mentor without training, but for the best results, a business employee development program may need to have both. Once again, the fact that mentors and coaches are the same people and that training and mentoring take place simultaneously depends on how your organization's talent development program is structured.

The Role of Mentors

Mentors rely heavily on their professional or life experiences and make those past experiences a central part of the engagement. In fact, depending on the type of mentoring program and the pairing method, learners can choose or be matched with their mentor specifically because that person has a set of skills or experiences that the mentee wants or needs to learn.

Don't be surprised if you're trying to launch a mentoring program and are having trouble attracting mentors. Many people who would be excellent mentors for a mentoring program don't realize the positive influence they can have because they are rarely recognized for the transferable talent they bring.

Combining Coaching & Mentoring

It all depends on how you structure relationships and the desired outcome of those relationships. Organizations can benefit from both business coaching and business mentoring.

In fact, coaching and mentoring are easily combined in the same learning programs if those learning programs are built from the start around measurable organizational objectives. Connect with MentorCliq to see how mentoring programs powered by mentoring software can impact and improve your organization's objectives. Sam Cook is a content strategist at MentorCliq who has seen first-hand the transformative impact that comes from mentoring for both mentors and learners.