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  • Susan Rose

Do I want a coach or a mentor?

As a coach, I spend much of my time talking with potential clients about ways in which they can develop and grow, and the role that coaching might play. Often the language used about what they may be looking for can vary; am I looking for a mentor or a coach? Are these the same thing - and does it really matter who I work with?

To answer some of these questions we can explore both the purpose and features of each.


What is coaching?

Coaching is a developmental intervention that empowers an individual to set their own objectives or goals for progression and growth. Coaching is a process through which a coach works alongside the client to facilitate a structured conversation, during which the client can explore and gain insights into how to achieve the goals they've set for themselves.

As such, coaching is most often goal- or task-specific and focuses on areas such as personal development, performance, overcoming challenges, or skills development. It focuses on the achievement of an identified developmental goal and is relatively short-term (over weeks or months). The coach does not give advice, but rather is a facilitator whose role is to develop the client's awareness of their thinking, emotions, and behaviours, and to work with the client to find solutions and often create plans for actions.

The answers and solutions lie within the client and the coach simply enables them to be recognised. Coaching can be viewed as more ‘formal’ in that a contract or agreement is set at the start as to what the intention is of the coaching, and over what time frame it will extend.

What is mentoring?

On the other hand, mentoring is a process whereby one individual (the mentor) has significant experience and knowledge of a particular skill, occupation, and/or industry, and draws on this to provide help and advice to another (the mentee). A mentor is someone who has experience of doing something, and is passing that on to a less experienced person.

A mentor is most often a colleague from within the same organisation or industry - for example, an experienced doctor may mentor or become a ‘buddy’ to a new, junior doctor. Mentoring focuses on longer-term career or role development and may be a more informal relationship. A mentor is called on for advice or guidance as and when needed, and the purpose of the relationship is holistic, rather than goal-specific.

So what sets them apart?

Differences between coaching and mentoring lie in the characteristics of each. Coaches may or may not have experience of the role and/or industry of the client. Coaching is focused on the personal development of the individual and is not about giving advice about the role; there has been much debate about whether it is helpful or unhelpful for a coach to have a close knowledge of the client’s industry.

In my experience this is always going to be helpful, but is not as essential as it is in mentoring. The real value of the coach lies in their expertise of the coaching process, including the use of tools and techniques to support the client. For this reason, effective workplace coaches are trained, qualified, and accredited in the coaching process.

The value of a mentor, on the other hand, is in their prior knowledge and the background that they can share. They most often do not have training in coaching or facilitation; rather they are informally sharing their past experiences and knowledge to support another.

Both approaches provide developmental support but for different purposes, and using different means.


If you would like to chat more about how coaching can support your development, please get in touch or contact me directly at



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