Coaching vs. Mentoring-Differences and Similarities


On this page, let's try to deal with the following questions:

1.  What is coaching and what is mentoring?

2. What are the basic differences between a coach and a mentor?

3. When to use a coach's help and when to use a mentor's help?


Here, I will present the definitions of leading organizations, bringing together both professional coaches and mentors. I will also share my understanding of both methods resulting from many years of work as both a coach and mentor. I will show the key differences by adding to it a comparison with other methods of support and personal development, e.g. therapy or counseling or training.

Definition of coaching and mentoring

Definition of Coaching according to the International Coaching Federation (ICF)

"Coaching is a method that allows you to effectively set and achieve important goals, increase professional and private life satisfaction, and become a more aware leader, manager, or parent. Fully use the potential, competences, and skills of the client. Identifies difficulties. Prepares you to overcome them. 
It often translates into motivation and greater determination in action. ICF defines coaching as accompanying the client in a creative process that stimulates thinking and inspires to maximize the professional and personal potential."

The latest definition of Mentoring according to the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) - November 2021

"Mentoring is a cognitive relationship involving the sharing of skills, knowledge, and expertise between the mentor and the mentee through development interviews, experience sharing, and role modeling."

Definition of the concept of Coach and Mentor

The word " mentor " comes from Greek and literally means "thinker". Mythical Mentor was a friend of King Odysseus. Before Odysseus sailed away to the Trojan War he entrusted the care of his son Telemach to Mentor. Thus, a mentor is someone who offers knowledge, experience, or wisdom to a person coming with the need of support.

Coach  (personal trainer) - a person who helps the Client to discover the right path to the goal, using their skills, techniques, tools, as well as other people that the Client can use. The work of the coach is based on a partnership,  relationship, and mutual trust.

My understanding of the essence of the role of a Coach and Mentor

A mentor is a person who has already been where Mentee is now. Therefore, a Mentor is required to have very good skills in transferring knowledge and sharing experience.  

Coach knows that he knows nothing.  By this short sentence, I mean a relationship in which the Coach does not need to have experience in the field he is working on with Coachee. But most of all, it means that the Coach doesn't judge, evaluate, or tell the Coachee which solution is best. The Coach's job is to broaden the Coachee's awareness and lead the Coachee to find the best answers for him.

The first good way to show the difference between a Coach and a Mentor will be this graphic


Coaching vs. Mentoring-Differences and Similarities 1

The crux of the difference between Coach and Mentor

If we were to summarize the essence of the difference between "book" understood Coaching and Mentoring, it would be as follows:

The mentor is an expert, he is an example to follow, he gives advice and guidance, and he shares his experience.

The coach is a supportive companion, he does not teach, advise or suggest solutions. On the other hand, he supports Coachee in finding solutions and motivates him to achieve his goals.

How is that possible? You will learn about this later in the text when we move on to the description of the main techniques and tools used by the Coach and Mentor. But now we can unveil the mystery by using this one very neat sentence:

Coach offers great questions to get your answers,

The Mentor has great answers to your questions.


And at the end of this section, summarizing the key differences, I propose a metaphorical comparison that, in addition to the Coach and the Mentor, will also show the reference to three other roles:

  • The therapist will examine what is bothering you when driving a car

  • Counselor  ( Counselor ) will listen to your concerns about the car

  • The mentor will share tips from the driving experience

  • The consultant will recommend how to drive the car

  • The coach will encourage you and support you in finding the best driving style for you

For the sake of order, I will add that:


- the most famous international coaching organization is the aforementioned International Coach Federation (ICF). On the website of the Polish branch, you can find  The "Code of Ethics" and "Key Competences", which are the bible of ICF accredited coaches

- the largest international organization for mentoring is the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), where  you can find the "Competency Framework" of mentors as well  EMCC's "Global Code"


And, interestingly, the history of the creation of both organizations leads us to three key names:


  1. Timothy Gallwey, the precursor of coaching,

  2. Sir John Whitmore, co-founder of business coaching and creator of the GROW method,

  3. Prof. David Clutterbuck, co-founder of modern mentoring in Europe.

I described it on the blog in dedicated columns:

Coaching history

Sir John Whitmore - the father of business coaching

David Clutterbuck - the father of modern mentoring

Comparison - Coaching, Mentoring, Consulting, and Counseling reflected on the scale Ask-Tell and Problem-Solution

I think the graphic below shows well the other key differences between Coaching, Mentoring, Consulting, and Counseling.

I would also like to highlight two things:

  1.  Coaching usually focuses on the goal defined in the initial coaching contract and during the coaching sessions we work on defining and implementing a solution that allows this goal to be achieved.

  2. Mentoring, like all methods supporting personal development, is evolving and today it increasingly uses asking questions and other techniques stimulating the development of the client's potential (e.g. metaphors or parables).

Coaching vs. Mentoring-Differences and Similarities 2

Comparison - Coaching, Mentoring, Consulting, Counseling, and Therapy vs. time arrow

Now let's see a comparison of all the methods related to the arrow of time. This is the best way to show the key difference between Coaching and Therapy.

The therapist usually has to examine the client's past and often answers the question Why? (e.g. why something happened in the past, what unconscious mechanisms were the cause of this and not another reaction).

Coaching focuses on the future and finding a solution. It shifts attention from the problem area to the solution area. As a rule, it does not delve into the past.

Coaching vs. Mentoring-Differences and Similarities 3

Comparison - when Coaching, when Mentoring, and when Training?

Another tip is to answer the question: when to use which method of personal development? When Coaching and when Mentoring? Or maybe training? We will show it by referring this question to the criterion of the urgency of a given need and the potential of creating new solutions.

Coaching vs. Mentoring-Differences and Similarities 4

Comparison - Coaching, Mentoring, Training, Consulting, Counseling on the Tell-Ask scale

Finally, let's look at everything from the broadest possible one-dimensional perspective.


If we think for a moment, we will notice that Coaching, Mentoring, Training, Consulting, and Counseling - all these methods support human development and are aimed at solving problems and/or expanding the potential that a person has. I consciously use the possibly capacious term "potential", because depending on the situation and needs, we will be dealing with the development of skills, competencies,  knowledge, experience, personality, awareness, and self-awareness.

In addition, our world is constantly evolving and changing at a spectacular pace. Let's look at the field of training, for example. There are fewer and fewer lectures and presentations, and more and more exercises, tasks, and questions. Relatively new areas such as Design Thinking or Agile Project Management also introduce "disruption" and question the so far status quo. For example, in the SCRUM project management method, the role of the SCRUM Coach is already present.

Either way, let's try to see this broader, holistic perspective and place the key methods of personal development on the Tell-Ask continuum.

Coaching vs. Mentoring-Differences and Similarities 5

What do Coaching and Mentoring have in common?

The perspective presented above prepares the ground for closing this comparison and listing the aspects that are common to Coaching and Mentoring.


Both in Coaching and Mentoring, the focus is on the Client (Coachee or Mentee). The goal is to make the Client stronger, and better. I like to say that we search, discover, and create the best version of ourselves. This growth can be about the various roles an adult has to fulfill in his or her life. For example, Business Coaching will focus on the role of a team leader at work, and Life Coaching may be about private relationships and the roles of a life partner or parent.

In each case, the Client gains reflections, a new look at himself, and a new perspective on options available in given situations. The motivation to act, self-confidence, and self-awareness increase, and the "lightness of being" is naturally born.

Paradoxically, the better the Coach-Mentor does his job, the less the Client will need him in the future. Although here we have an immanent difference between a coaching relationship and a mentoring relationship. In Coaching, we usually implement a certain agreed contract that ends when the goal is achieved. A mentoring relationship, by its nature, can be a long-term relationship, in which the Mentee consults with the Mentor on a variety of occasions. Such a relationship can also turn into a friendship.

Process and Relationship

Both coaching and mentoring are developmental and transformational processes. It is an exchange of thoughts, experiences, and energy. It is a relationship between two adults, and like any relationship, it requires the necessary conditions to lead to a change that is beneficial for the Client. It is a journey together through better and worse times. It is about overcoming or dismantling the obstacles encountered together. It's sometimes two steps forward and again one backward. It's being in a worse mood with yourself. And, interestingly,  the most difficult sessions are often the source of the most valuable and lasting change.


The change favorable to the Client will not take place if it is not possible to establish a relationship based on TRUST, respect, and confidentiality. Both the Coach and the Mentor are responsible for building this relationship and at the beginning creating conditions that will be comfortable for the Client. Without TRUST, the Client will not open and we will only move on the surface, and the changes will be shallow.

The Coach and Mentor accompany the Client on this journey to change. They don't judge. They encourage the Client to reflect and broaden his perspective. They both motivate and support him. While conducting the process, the Coach and Mentor, above all, actively listen, ask open questions, paraphrase, reflect (they act like a mirror in which the Client can see himself from different perspectives), create challenges, and help to identify the Client's strengths and resources.

Clarity of Roles

Let us emphasize once again that both Coaching and Mentoring are a relationship between two adults. And as in any relationship, clarity of roles is extremely important. This should be clarified and agreed upon early in the relationship, and then consistently followed. For example, one of the challenges for a coach is "teaching" the Client that Coach will not answer questions like "What would you, Ryszard, do in my place?".


I would summarize the fundamental difference in roles as follows:

  • In each case, Coach and Mentor are responsible for HOW the process takes place. In particular, they are responsible for the quality of their skills and the ethics of relations and process

  • However, it is the Client who decides WHAT is the subject of development and change. And it is the Client who ultimately decides what actions he/she will take and what he/she will use for their own development.  

Coach and Mentor are also developing

As the Grande Finale, I would like to share one more reflection.


Thanks to the conducted sessions, Coach and Mentor are also constantly developing.  


If only the Coach and Mentor WANT, they can reap invaluable benefits for their development from each session. These are, in fact, extremely enriching experiences. Through self-reflection, sometimes meditation or just practicing silence, you can master your skills as well as become aware of your own "shadows". Especially those that may be an obstacle to maintaining neutrality and impartiality.

Supervision is also important here, carried out regularly, at least at the initial stage of their practice. I would risk saying that every Good Coach and every Good Mentor also has their Master. This relationship teaches us humility and protects against the very dangerous and extremely tempting belief that "after so many years of practice, we already know everything".

I am constantly learning what it means to be Human and I THANK ALL MY CUSTOMERS one more time for that. Ryszard Skarbek.

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