Coaching vs. Mentoring

What's the difference between coaching and mentoring?

Most managers have a huge interest in developing their employees’ capabilities but many managers struggle identifying the role they should play beyond manager – should they be a coach or a mentor?  What’s the difference?

Many people use the words coaching and mentoring interchangeably, but the two functions differ. Coaching focuses on immediate performance problems and learning opportunities, while mentoring emphasizes long-term personal career development.  Thus, the role of the coach is to create a specific agenda, identify clear tasks and sub-tasks that address skills and analyze the different ways their coachees can learn them.  Coaching also has a direct link to performance appraisal. Often, a manager offers to provide coaching for a direct report after a performance appraisal reveals a correctable problem or the need to develop particular skills essential for advancement.

Mentoring focuses more on the individual and transcends skills alone to more broadly focus on general work life.  Mentoring can be more philosophical and focused on attitudes and behaviors rather than on specific skills. Moreover, while a coach is often the supervisor of the person being coached, a mentor is seldom the boss of the person being mentored. Finally, a coach directs the learning and instruction during the coaching process, while the mentored person takes charge of his or her own learning during the mentoring process.  Effective coaching generates numerous benefits for individuals and organizations.  It can help overcome costly and time-consuming performance problems, strengthen employees’ skills, boost productivity, improve employee engagement and retention, and ultimately, foster a positive work culture.

What’s your coaching style?  If you’d like to learn more about your own coaching style and enhance your coaching skills, check out ML118 – Coaching Skills sponsored by Harvard Business Publishing in the OACC Online Training Center at



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