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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

Tim Gallwey - The Inner Game and origins of modern coaching

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 or Mentor? You need both

One of the most important differences between a coach and a mentor is that the mentor is a volunteer and the coach performs his/her 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 a 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 like an obvious choice, let's see if it is 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 tremendous pressure and an excessive amount of diverse trends and fashions that are fueled by the media, especially social media. Everyone wants to stand out. This overload of information causes the well-known FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) effect - 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 pushed to the far side. It becomes less and less important whether we can choose the right method, tool, or way of thinking for the type of need or problem we are dealing with.

Is Agile in fashion? Of course! Well, now all projects have to be done in agile. Such a fashion. And if you question it, you will be labeled a "resistor", a backward person, or worse, you will be accused of disengagement.

Paradoxically, we more and more are trumpeting productivity and efficiency, but in the context of doing everything faster. And not better or easier. More and more often, efficiency is identified with the fastest possible transition to action - without devoting enough time to qualitative reflection on the most optimal approach.

Most people are looking for a mentor to get valuable advice from a more experienced professional and at the same time open the door to that mentor's network of relationships. In addition, some people work with a business mentor in their organization to strengthen 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 switching 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 won't 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.

A 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 self-awareness.

For example, a professional leadership coach enables the client to develop 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 were 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, become aware of his strengths and weaknesses, the criteria for choosing the best career path for him, and therefore designing a professional career that will be best suited to the personality, values, and interests of the client - and not the current fashion or path the mentor has taken.

In this way, coaching can be of value to employees at every stage of their careers, whereas currently available mentoring most often focuses on the early or mid-stage of career development.

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

The coaching relationship, therefore, has a fixed purpose and therefore has a specific 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.

Overall, mentors are excellent resources for long-term professional development. However, they don't offer the kind of regular interaction, goal-oriented, action-oriented, and measurable outcomes coaches offer.

Mentors 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 appropriate skills, and can they do it in an impartial manner, not burdened with their own judgment and previous experience?

Coaches can help in getting to know each other better, developing new skills, and achieving the intended development goals, but are they 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 need to choose between a coach and a mentor is actually apparent. It all depends on what you want to achieve at a given stage. So the simple question remains: what do you need a coach for? What do you need a mentor for?

Coach and Mentor are also developing

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


Thanks to the conducted sessions, coaches and mentors 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 CLIENTS one more time for that. Ryszard Skarbek.

Coaching vs Mentoring-Similarities-Differences-Empowerment Coaching Krakow.jpg
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