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Coaching vs. Mentoring - Definition.
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 is the difference between a coach and a mentor?

3. What are the similarities between these two?

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


I will present definitions of leading organizations associating professional coaches and mentors. I will also share my understanding of both methods based on many years of work as a coach and a mentor. I will show the key differences between coaching and mentoring, adding a comparison with other learning and development methods, i.e. therapy,  counseling, and training.

Coaching and Mentoring. Definition

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

We will also explain the origins of "coach" and "mentor" words. 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)

"It 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 it 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

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

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

The word "mentor" comes from Greek and 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, and tools. The coach's work is based on partnership,  relationship building, and mutual trust.

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

Therefore, above all, the Mentor needs 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 be experienced in the field he is working on with the Coachee. But above all, it means that the Coach does not judge,  evaluate, and 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: 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 these two roles, 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, he supports the coachee in finding solutions and motivates the coachee to achieve the goals.

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 neat sentence:

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

At the end of this part that summarizes the key differences, 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 want to add that:


- the most famous coaches 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”They are the bible of coaches accredited by this organization. 

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


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


  1. Timothy Gallwey, 

  2. Sir John Whitmore,

  3. Prof. David Clutterbuck.

You can find more information about the people who were crucial to the creation and development of these personal growth methods on our blog in the columns below:

Coaching history

Tim Gallwey Biography

Sir John Whitmore Biography

David Clutterbuck Biography

Comparison visualized on the scales Ask-Tell  and Problem-Solution -  Coaching vs Mentoring vs Consulting vs Counseling

I think the graphic below shows well the other key differences.

I would also like to highlight two things:

  1.  Coaching usually focuses on the goal defined in the initial contract. During the coaching sessions, we work on defining and implementing a solution that makes this goal achievable.

  2. Mentoring, like all methods supporting personal learning and development, is evolving. 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 on the time arrow - Mentoring vs Coaching vs Consulting vs Counseling vs Therapy

Now, let's compare all the methods placed on the arrow of time. This is the best way to show the key difference with Therapy.

The therapist examines 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).

The coach 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 learning and development? 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 on the Tell-Ask scale - Coaching vs Mentoring vs Training vs Consulting vs Counseling

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


If we think for a moment, we will notice that all methods mentioned above are the ones that support people's learning and development. They help people solve problems or reach their full potential. I consciously use the possibly capacious term "potential". Depending on the situation and needs, we will be dealing with either the development of skills, competencies,  knowledge, experience, personality, awareness, or 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. The new areas, such as Design Thinking or Agile Project Management, also introduce "disruption" and question the 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 common aspects.

The goal is the common part

In both approaches, the client is at the center of attention. The goal is to make them stronger. I like to say that we search, discover, and create the best version of ourselves. This progress may embrace different life roles. For example, a Business Coach will focus on the role of a team leader at work, and a Life Coach may concentrate 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. However, there is an immanent difference between a coaching and a mentoring relationship. In the first one, we usually implement an agreed contract, which ends when the goal is achieved. The latter, 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

Both methods are developmental 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. 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. Interestingly,  the most difficult sessions are often the source of the most valuable and lasting changes.
A change beneficial for the client will not occur without establishing a relationship based on TRUST, respect, and confidentiality. Both the Coach and the Mentor are responsible for this relationship building and, in the beginning, creating conditions that will be comfortable for the client. Without TRUST, the client will not open up, and you 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 and broaden their perspective. They 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

Let us emphasize once again that both are a relationship between two adults. And as in any relationship, clarity of roles is critical. This should be clarified and agreed upon at the beginning of the relationship and followed consistently. 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, Richard, 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.

  • However, the Client decides what is the subject of personal development. This is the Client who ultimately decides what actions he will take and what he will use - e.g. leadership development. 

It's also worth emphasizing that both methods have a positive impact on employee engagement.

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. The coach performs his role professionally. In addition, in most cases, the mentor is employed in the same company and helps his mentees free of charge. The coach is an external person, and we pay for his support.


Although from the perspective of an individual, the choice of free support may seem the obvious one, let's see if it's not a coincidence that depending on our needs, choosing a coach will be a much better decision. Why? Because they complement each other.


We live in a world that generates incredible pressure and an excessive amount of various trends 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 dangerous trap. We live more in a world of quantity, and quality is relegated to the background.


It is becoming 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 fashionable? Of course! Well, now all projects must be done in an agile way. 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 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 to gain valuable advice from a more experienced professional. At the same time, this may open the door to the mentor's network. In addition, some people work with a business mentor in their organization to enhance their image and gain access to contacts with senior management through this relationship. This can significantly accelerate Manetee's career development o (attention, this is a crucial moment - we touch the aspect of speed and acceleration).


Mentors can remain valuable members of our support system even after they move to another job. However, because mentoring is a voluntary job, 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 good enough without employing a coach.

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 self-discovery and expanding self-awareness.


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


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. This helps to define the criteria for choosing the best career path and designing a career development that will be best fit for the client's personality, values, and interests - and not to the current fashion or path followed by the mentor.

In this way, Coach's support 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.


This relationship usually focuses on a very specific goal set out in the initial 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. This a short-term or mid-term cooperation. 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 in the longer term, turning authoritarian bosses into coaches for their teams. That is why it is worth considering the implementation of regular coaching programs for people managers on all levels of the organizational hierarchy.


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. However, will they help develop the appropriate skills, or can they do it impartially, unburdened by their judgment and previous experience?


A coach can help you get to know yourself better, develop new skills, and achieve your development goals, but is he able to help employees of a given company build a 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 apparent.


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


So, a simple question remains crucial: why do you need a coach? Why do you need a mentor?

What should be the effective Coach? Qualities of a good coach

An effective coach is a person who has been trained in respective techniques, has extensive experience and maturity, and understands today's business operations, trends, and challenges. He also understands how an individual's career and professional development should be aligned with the organization's needs to help the Client achieve personal development goals and professional successes. The Coch is partnering with Clients to reach their full potential in the longer term.

What should be an effective Mentor? Qualities of a good mentor

The ideal Mentor is a person who has been trained in respective techniques and has appropriate professional experience, knowledge, and qualifications in the area needed by the mentee. Within organizations, such skills are usually developed via structured mentoring programs. In addition, Mentor also has general business knowledge and needs to be a person who has enthusiasm, if not passion, to help others develop, realize their full potential, and achieve their own and organizational goals.

Coach and Mentor are also developing

As the "grande finale" of our comparisons regarding 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 very enriching experiences. Through self-reflection, (sometimes meditation) or simply practicing silence, you can hone your craft and 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 the initial stage of your practice, both as a Coach and as a Mentor. I will venture to say that every Effective Coach and every Good Mentor also has his Master. It teaches humility and protects against a dangerous and 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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