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Coaching vs. Mentoring - Differences, Similarities


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

1.  What is coaching and what is mentoring?

2. What is the difference between coaching and mentoring?

3. What are the similarities between these two?

4. When to use the help of a coach and when to use the help of a mentor?


Here I will present definitions of leading organizations associating 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 a mentor. I will show the key differences between coaching and mentoring, adding to it a comparison with other methods of support and personal development, e.g. therapy or counseling, or training.

Coaching and Mentoring. Definitions

As always, we will start with the definition of coaching and mentoring. We will quote the definitions given by two of the world's largest organizations associating professional coaches and mentors.

We will also tell you where the words "coach" and "mentor" come from. We will also try to explain the essence of each of these roles as precisely as possible, and then we will focus on showing the differences between a Coach and a Mentor.


Definition of coaching according to the International Coach Federation (ICF)

"Coaching is a method that allows you to effectively set and achieve important goals, increase satisfaction with professional and private life, and become a more conscious leader, manager, or parent. It fully uses the client's potential, competencies, and skills. Identifies difficulties. He prepares to defeat them.

It often translates into motivation and greater determination in action. ICF defines coaching as accompanying the client in a creative process that provokes thinking and inspires them to maximize their 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 mentor and mentee through development conversations, experience sharing and role modelling.

Who is Coach? Who is a Mentor? Definition of concepts.

The word "mentor" comes from Greek and literally means "thinker". The 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 a person who offers knowledge, experience, or wisdom to a person coming in 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.

The essence of the roles of a Coach and Mentor - my understanding

A mentor is a person who has been to where Mentee is now.

Therefore, the Mentor is required above all to have very good skills in transferring knowledge and sharing experience. 

The 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 the Coachee. But above all, it means that the Coach does not judge does not evaluate, and does not tell the Coachee which solution is the best. The Coach's task is to expand the Coachee's awareness and lead the Coachee to find the best answers for himself.


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

source: Coaching Culture at Work

Coaching vs. Mentoring - Differences and Similarities 1

The crux of the difference between Coach and Mentor

So if we  were to summarize the essence of the difference between "book" understood Coaching and Mentoring, it would sound like this:

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

The coach is a supportive companiondoes not teach, does not advise, and does not indicate solutions. On the other hand, it supports the coachee in finding solutions and motivates him to achieve the goals set by him.

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

The coach offers great questions to get your answers,
The mentor has great answers to your questions.

And at the end of this part, summarizing the key differences between coaching and mentoring, I propose a metaphorical comparison that, apart from the Coach and Mentor, will also show reference to three other roles:

  • The therapist will explore what is stopping you from driving

  • The counselor will listen to your concerns about the car

  • The mentor will share tips from his driving experience

  • The consultant will recommend how to drive a car

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

For the record, I'll add that:


- the most famous international coaching organization is the already-mentioned International Coach Federation (ICF). On the pages of the Polish branch, you can find “The Code of Ethics” and “ICF Core Competences”which are the bible of coaches accredited by this organization. 

- the largest international mentoring organization is the European Mentoring and Coaching Council. (EMCC) where you can find Mentors Competence Framework and  "EMCC Global Code" 


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


  1. Timothy Gallwey, the pioneer of coaching,

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

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

You can find more information about the people who were crucial to the creation and development of both coaching and mentoring on our blog in the columns below:

Coaching history

Sir John Whitmore Biography

David Clutterbuck Biography

Tim Gallwey Biography

Comparison - Coaching vs Mentoring vs Consulting and vs 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 vs Mentoring vs Consulting vs Counseling and vs  Therapy on the 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 vs Mentoring vs Training vs Consulting and vs 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 shown above ends the presentation of the differences and leads us to the presentation of aspects that are common to Coaching and Mentoring. So let's see what connects Coaching and Mentoring.

The goal is the common part of Coaching and Mentoring

In both Coaching and Mentoring, the client (Coachee or Mentee) is at the center. The goal is to make the client stronger, better. I like to say that we search, discover and create the best version of ourselves. This increase may relate to the different roles that adult person has to fulfill in their lives. For example, Business Coaching will focus on the role of a team leader at work, and Life Coaching may focus on personal relationships and the roles of a life partner or parent.

In each case, the client gains reflections, a new look at himself and the situation, and new options for action. Motivation to act, self-confidence, and self-awareness increase, and the "lightness of being" is naturally born.

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

Process and Relationship - another common part of Coaching and Mentoring

Both Coaching and Mentoring are development and transformational processes. It is an exchange of thoughts, experiences and energy. This is a relationship between two adults, and like any relationship, it requires the necessary conditions for it to lead to a change that is beneficial for the client. It's a joint journey through good and bad times. It is a joint overcoming or dismantling of encountered obstacles. It's sometimes moving two steps forward and one step back again. It's being in a bad mood with yourself. And, interestingly,  the hardest sessions are often the source of the most valuable and lasting changes.
A change beneficial for the Customer will not occur 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 up and we will only move on the surface, and the changes will be shallow.

The coach and the mentor accompany the client on this journey to change. They don't judge. They encourage the client to reflect, broaden their perspective, motivate and support them. While conducting the process, the Coach and Mentor actively listen, ask open questions, paraphrase, reflect (act as a mirror in which the client can see himself from different perspectives), help identify the client's strengths and existing resources, create challenges and support in the implementation plan to achieve the agreed goal.

Clarity of Roles - this is also common to Coaching and Mentoring

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 at the beginning of the relationship, and then consistently followed. For example, one of the challenges for the Coach is to "teach" the Client that the Coach will not answer questions like "What would you, Rysiek, do in my place?".
I would summarize the fundamental role difference between the Client and the Coach or Mentor as follows:

  • In each case, the Coach and Mentor are responsible for HOW the process takes place. In particular, they are responsible for the quality of their workshop and the ethics of the relationship 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 will take and what he will use for his own development. 


Coach or Mentor? You need both

One of the most important differences between a coach and a mentor is that the mentor is usually a volunteer and the coach performs his role professionally. In addition, in the vast majority of cases, the mentor is employed in the same company and helps his mentees free of charge, and the coach is an external person and we pay for his support.


And although from the perspective of an individual, the choice of free support may seem an obvious choice, let's see if it's not a coincidence that depending on our needs, choosing a coach will be a much better decision. Because in fact, coaching and mentoring complement each other.


We live in a world that generates incredible pressure and an excessive amount of various trends and fashions that are fueled by the media, especially social media. Everyone wants to stand out. This excess of information causes the well-known FOMO effect (Fear Of Missing Out) - the fear that we will miss something important or the fear that we will lose something if we do not keep up with the pace of today's world.


But this is a very dangerous trap. We live more and more in a world of quantity, and quality is relegated to the background.


It is becoming less and less important whether we are able to choose the right method, tool or way of thinking for the type of need or problem we are dealing with.


Is Agile fashionable? Of course! Well, now all projects must be done in an agile way. Such fashion. And if you question it, you'll be labeled a "resistance," a backward person, or worse, a charge of disengagement.


Paradoxically, there is more and more talk about productivity and efficiency, but in the context of doing everything faster. And not better or easier. More and more often, efficiency is equated with the fastest possible transition to action - without devoting adequate time to qualitative reflection on the most optimal approach.


Most people seek a mentor in order to gain valuable advice from a more experienced professional and at the same time open the door to the mentor's network. In addition, some people work with a business mentor in their organization to enhance their image at work and gain access to contacts with senior management through this relationship. This can significantly accelerate the career development of the mentee (attention, this is an important moment - we touch the aspect of speed and acceleration).


Mentors can remain important members of our support system even after they move to another job. But because mentoring is a voluntary role, you may not have as much access to your mentor as you would like.


A monthly lunch with a mentor can be valuable for networking and asking questions. But it will not necessarily be the best way to develop a new skill and enrich yourself with a new, lasting quality.

And while having a mentor is extremely valuable to many professionals, the benefits may not be enough without coaching.

The coach focuses on helping his clients achieve specific, measurable goals using proven techniques. Its task is to enable clients to identify solutions that will change their behavior or develop specific skills - through the process of self-discovery and expanding self-awareness.


For example, a professional leadership coach develops the client-specific leadership skills necessary to succeed as a leader. And these internal resources will stay with the client whether they have a mentor or not. Such support can be valuable both for people who have been promoted to a managerial position for the first time and for managers with more experience.


First of all, a career coach will help the client to get to know himself better and, therefore, to become aware of his strengths and weaknesses, the criteria for choosing the best career path for himself and therefore designing a professional career that will be best suited to the client's personality, values and interests - and not to the current fashion or path followed by the mentor.

In this way, coaching can be valuable for employees at any stage of their careers, while currently, available mentoring tends to focus on the early or mid-career stage.


A coaching relationship usually focuses on a very specific goal set out in the coaching contract. Coaching sessions are held much more often than mentoring sessions - for example, once a week. Coaches are not dependent on the availability of the coach in scheduling appointments. More frequent meetings and focusing attention on a defined goal allow for more effective implementation of lasting change.


The coaching relationship, therefore, has a fixed purpose and therefore has a defined duration. A mentoring relationship is often a more long-term relationship.

A good coach can also be invaluable to an organization for one main reason: it can develop managers to become coaches themselves.

This significantly shapes the company's culture, turning authoritarian bosses into coaches for their teams.


In conclusion, mentors are excellent resources for long-term professional development. However, they do not offer the kind of regular interaction, goal-oriented commitment, action, and measurable results that coaches offer.


A mentor can help younger employees find their place in the company, share their experience and possibly open the door to contacts with other important people in the industry, but will they help develop the appropriate skills and can they do it in an impartial way, unburdened by their own judgment and previous experience?


A coach can help you get to know yourself better, develop new skills, and achieve your development goals, but is it able to help employees of a given company build a wider network of contacts or better sense the nuances of organizational culture and its unwritten rules of the game?


So, depending on your needs, choose the right tool.


The necessity to choose between a coach and a mentor is really apparent.


It all depends on what you want to achieve at a given stage.


So a simple question remains invariably important: why do you need a coach? Why do you need a mentor?

What should be the ideal Business Coach? Qualities of a good coach

The ideal coach is a person who has been trained in coaching techniques, has extensive experience and maturity, understands today's business operations, trends and challenges, and understands how an individual's career and professional development should be aligned with the needs of the organization to help that person in achieving professional successes and in achieving their development goals.

What should be an ideal Business Mentor? Qualities of a good mentor

The ideal mentor is a person who has been trained in mentoring techniques and has appropriate professional experience, knowledge and qualifications in the area that is needed by the mentee. In addition, he also has general business knowledge and it is very important for the Mentor to be a person who has enthusiasm, if not passion, to help others develop, realize their potential and achieve their own and organizational goals.

Coach and Mentor are also developing

Asgrand finale our comparisons regarding both Coaching and Mentoring, as well as Coach and Mentor, I would like to share one more reflection.

Thanks to the conducted sessions, the Coach and Mentor also develop

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

Not without significance here is Supervision, conducted regularly at least at the initial stage of your practice, both as a Coach and as a Mentor. I will venture to say that every Good Coach and every Good Mentor also has his Master. It teaches humility and protects against a very dangerous and extremely tempting belief that "after so many years of practice, I already know everything".

I am constantly learning what it means to be Human.


Richard Skarbek.

Coaching vs Mentoring - Similarities and Differences
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