Mentoring vs Coaching: The Key Differences and Benefits.

Written by Laura Caveney

22 May 2023

employee engagement

mentoring vs coaching, which is better

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Coaching and mentoring are easily conflated, but they each have their purpose. Learn what the difference is and its benefits.  

Coaching and mentoring are two great opportunities for people development, especially if you have a team of talented employees who can guide your more junior staff.

While the overarching goals of each are the same, how they work is different.

And while they’re frequently blended into one, it can sometimes feel like you need one or the other.

But, we’re here to explain mentoring vs coaching so you can see if one is better or how both could work in tangent.

Keep reading to learn:

  • What is the difference between coaching and mentoring is
  • The benefits of coaching
  • The benefits of mentoring
  • How to use coaching and mentoring in your workplace

Let’s get started.

Defining mentoring and coaching

Before we dive in, the first step is understanding what mentoring and coaching is.

While they are similar, they have their differences and work in different ways.

Let’s break it down:

Mentoring: the definition

A mentor is a member of staff (usually more senior) that share their knowledge, skills and experience to help another employee (usually more junior) develop.

Coaching: the definition

A coach is someone who provides guidance to a client and helps them set and hit key goals through structured sessions over a period of time.

Mentoring vs coaching: differences between mentoring and coaching

Looking at the definitions above, you could be forgiven for thinking that coaching and mentoring are the same.

But, there are 5 key differences between mentors and coaches:

  • Volunteer vs paid
  • Long-term vs short-term
  • Experience vs qualifications
  • Personal experience vs general advice
  • Mentee driven vs coach driven

Let’s look at these in more detail.

Voluntary vs paid

Typically, a coach is paid while a mentor is voluntary. A coach will also likely be an external influence while a mentor will usually be someone within your own company, or at least within your network.

There’s no benefit of one over the other, it just depends on what the person is trying to gain.

A coach will be better at fixing mindset issues, whereas a mentor will be better at giving specific lessons within their industry, job and company.

Long-term vs short-term

Generally, mentoring relationships last a lot longer than coaching ones.

Of course, the element of being paid usually has something to do with this. When you’re working with a voluntary mentor, especially one you work with who you likely share a lot of common ground, the relationship is going to be a lot different than the one produced in a coaching setting.

In some cases, mentoring relationships last a lifetime as mentors have a more vested interest in their mentee’s growth.

Experience vs qualifications

Being a mentor doesn’t require any specific training or qualification.

⚙️ Note

It is worth providing training or learning materials for your mentors so that they feel best prepared for their new role.

Meanwhile, a coach is usually trained and qualified in their position and has specific credentials to coach individuals.

A mentor will rely on their experiences both in life and their career to guide their mentee. It’s a much more personal approach which leads us nicely onto our next point.

Specific personal experience vs general advice

As expected, given the above, another key difference between a mentor and a coach is the type of advice they give.

A coach shares much more general advice that comes from their knowledge and training, as opposed to personal experience.

They’ll be focussed on developing set skills and identifying room for improvement. Meanwhile, a mentor will share much more personal experience and the mentee will use that to develop and learn from.

Given there’s more structure in a mentorship based on the mentee setting what they want to gain from it, the skills and experiences talked about will be much more specific.

Mentee driven vs coach driven

Typically, mentoring is less structured than coaching and it’s usually up to the mentee to lead and ask questions.

Coaching meanwhile generally has a more formalised structure and the coach will follow a set process at sessions.

Mentoring can be much more fluid which has its advantages.

Which is better, a coach or a mentor?

Honestly, it depends. Deciding whether a coach or mentor is best for your workplace programme really depends on what the participants, and your organisation, are hoping to gain from it.

Mentoring is generally more relaxed and looks at developing things like soft skills and confidence.

Meanwhile, coaching is a bit more targeted around performance.

Skills required for mentoring and coaching

If you’re considering setting up your own mentoring or coaching programme, you might be wondering what type of people you’re looking for to get involved.

Whether you’re looking internally or externally, there are some key skills you want to be on the lookout for.

Skills required for mentoring

To be a mentor, you don’t need any specific training or qualifications.

However, when you’re looking to build a mentorship, you will want to find mentors with certain skills:

  • Wanting to give back and volunteer
  • Strong communication skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Experience and knowledge that is relevant to potential mentees e.g. long-standing career, years working in a particular department etc
  • Motivational and encouraging

Skills required for coaching

You might look externally for a coach for your team, but it’s still important to be aware of the key skills needed to be an effective coach:

  • Interpersonal skills
  • Perceptive to spot strengths and areas of improvement for the coachee
  • Organisation skills to build a plan to help improve the coachee based on their needs and requirements
  • Strong communication skills

As you can see, there’s quite an overlap in skills required to be a coach and a mentor. Often, good coaches make good mentors and vice versa.

Key benefits of mentoring and coaching

Mentoring and coaching both have a huge role to play in the development of your people and your learning strategy.

When done well, they can benefit the individual receiving mentoring and coaching, along with the mentor or coach and the organisation too.

Benefits of mentoring

A lot of benefits are likely to come to mind when you think about mentoring.

Mentoring can hit both of these in one fell swoop.

Mentoring can also:

  • Encourage employee engagement and improve productivity
  • Increase employee retention rates
  • Impact business results
  • Easily be implemented and is low cost
  • Improve soft skills and things like confidence and mental health
  • Increase work networks

Benefits of coaching

Coaching is, as we know now, much more direct and targeted when it comes to objectives.

As such, its benefits are a little different from mentoring, but there are still overlaps.

Some benefits of coaching are that can:

  • Offer specialised training and focus sessions
  • Rapidly improve skills and knowledge
  • Improve employee engagement and loyalty
  • Increase employee retention
  • Impact knowledge sharing

How to use coaching and mentoring in your organisation

As you can see, coaching and mentoring aren’t the same, but they both offer huge rewards when done well.

They’re two fantastic ways to develop individual team members and improve skills and knowledge.

Implementing a mentoring or coaching programme can help you identify rising stars, improve job performance, impact business results and so much more.

So how do you get started?

Well, first off you need to be clear that you’re set on developing people’s potential.

That’s the crux of it.

Next, you need to decide what the focus is. Coaching and mentoring each have their role to play.

If you’re looking to develop your people and foster better ties with your organisation, then mentoring is probably for you. If you’re looking to scale growth and skills of a select number of individuals to pivot your business, or drive growth, then coaching may be better suited.

You can get started by implementing a relationship management tool right into your LMS.

ThinkLink is a plugin we created to help L&D professionals better set up, manage and report on mentoring and coaching relationships.