14 Sep 2021

Mentoring vs coaching - the key differences and benefits

Delivered in partnership with leading mentoring platform providers PushFar, our new mentoring programme opens the door to a world of opportunities so our members can be the best they can be. In today's blog we explore the key differences between mentoring and coaching, when to use both learning practices and what the key benefits are.

Mentoring - the definition
A mentor is someone who shares their knowledge, skills and/or experience, to help another to develop and grow.

Coaching - the definition
A coach is someone who provides guidance to a client on their goals and helps them reach their full potential.

Now, looking at these two definitions, we would forgive you for still not being totally sure about the key differences between mentoring and coaching. One of the most distinct differences is that mentoring is directive, with coaching being non-directive. What does that mean in practice? Well, in mentoring meetings, it is likely to be the mentor doing more of the talking, whereas in coaching it is likely to be the coach posing questions and giving the person they are coaching the space to reflect and do most of the talking. Ultimately, both coaching and mentoring are about helping people to get where they want to go by leveraging the experience of the coach or mentor. They can be seen to evolve from directive (mentoring) to non-directive (coaching) in a chart often used to depict the differences.

The differences between mentoring and coaching

Below are a few of the key differences between mentoring and coaching, compared. We’ll start with the key differences for mentoring:

  • Mentoring is often longer-term with some mentoring relationships lasting 6+ months and in several cases mentoring can last years or even decades. In fact, some famous mentors and mentees cite lifelong mentoring relationships.
  • No qualifications are required for mentoring, which means that it is easy for organisations to start mentoring programmes quickly. Yes, mentoring training is often recommended but it certainly isn’t required and in fact there are very few mentoring qualifications offered, compared with that of coaching qualifications.
  • As mentioned, mentoring is a lot more directive. It is about the mentor sharing their knowledge, experience and skills, telling the mentee and guiding them through direction.
  • Typically, mentoring is less structured than coaching and whilst having a mentoring meeting agenda and goals is recommended, it will be up to the mentee to put this together, compared with coaching which typically follows a more rigorous structure.
  • Finally, mentoring is mainly development driven and looks to the mentee to decide what they wish to achieve and which goals they have for their mentoring relationships.

Now, the key differences for coaching are:

  • Coaching is often shorter-term and may be as short as a quick 10- or 15-minute conversation. That said, some coaching relationships can be longer-term too.
  • There is training in coaching skills and a lot of coaching qualifications are available, and almost always necessary and certainly recommended, to be a truly effective coach.
  • Unlike mentoring, coaching is non-directive which means that it is about posing the right questions, providing the space, trust and confidence for the individual being coached to consider how they can achieve more, reach their objectives and find capabilities within themselves.
  • Typically, coaching is structured by line-managers or sponsors, so organisations will often sponsor an individual to be coached or a line-manager will send an employee to be coached for certain skills.
  • Coaching is performance driven and encourages the individual or individuals being coached to perform in their day-to-day roles.

So, as you can see, there are lots of key differences. There are lots of skills required and recommended for both coaching and mentoring, which we will explore now too.

The skills required for mentoring

For mentoring, whilst qualifications aren’t required, there are lots of skills that are recommended for someone to be an effective mentor. Here are just some of them:

  • A keen interest in helping others is a given but we hope you’ll have that – it’s a key place to start when mentoring people.
  • First-hand experience, knowledge, and insights in the area in which you’re providing mentoring – because mentoring should be built on solid and concrete advice and guidance.
  • Relationship building and interpersonal skills are crucial for mentoring – they’re also important for coaching.
  • Dedicated long-term time commitment whilst not potentially considered a ‘skill’ is important because if you start a mentoring journey with someone, it’s vital to see it through.
  • Motivating, encouraging, and inspiring energy throughout all mentoring meetings.
  • Helping to identify the mentee’s goals is crucial. This can take some self-reflection from the mentor, in order to help the mentee and work out where their goals should be.
The skills required for coaching
  • A relationship of equals where the coach and coachee have mutual understanding and respect is critical.
  • The ability to maximise resources and inspire, in a similar way to that required of mentoring.
  • The ability to recognise strengths and challenge the individual being coached, in order to propel them forward.
  • The skill to tackle problems head on and not dwell, or allow the coachee, to dwell on them.
  • Ability to raises awareness and responsibility both with the individual being coached but also throughout an overall office and organisational environmental level.
  • The skill to make it real, meaning finding right balance of interpersonal skills and the practical skills to convert discussions into actions.

So, there are just a few crucial mentoring and coaching skills. As you’ll notice, there is quite an overlap in some cases and at PushFar we often see some of the most effective mentors being coaches too.

The key benefits to mentoring and coaching

Both mentoring and coaching have a range of benefits, which, when conducted correctly can benefit both the individual receiving mentoring and coaching, along with the mentor or coach and the organisation too. Here are some benefits to mentoring and coaching:

  • Both mentoring and coaching are extremely effective learning techniques.
  • Both mentoring and coaching can be formal and informal, with mentoring often seen more informally and coaching often see more formally.
  • Both can increase employee engagement and retention when applied.
  • Both mentoring and coaching are easy to implement into any organisation or business structure and increasingly we’re seeing organisations running both.
  • Both mentoring and coaching can increase confidence and the interpersonal skills of the person providing the mentoring or coaching, and the person receiving it.
  • And finally, both can dramatically improve individual performance.

If you're a CIH member and would like to started with PushFar, you need to be logged in to MyCIH* before visiting our mentoring page where you can register to use the mentoring programme. You can then take a few minutes to update your profile before you explore and get familiar with the programme!

*Members who have not created a MyCIH profile will need to do so with the email address on their profile. It is only once this is done that you will be able to access the platform and your correct profile.