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Mentoring vs Coaching

Updated: Apr 4

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If you’ve ever found yourself wondering about the difference between coaching and mentoring, you’re not alone. The two can seem very similar and it’s easy to get confused about the differences between them.

Both are based on the relationship between two people and, though the methods might differ between coaching and mentoring, both are about helping people grow, develop and reach their full potential. 

Mentors and coaches can help individuals make progress in their personal and professional life. They can also help businesses build stronger teams, cultivate leaders, and improve ROI. But to know which one is right for you, you need to know how to tell them apart.

What is mentorship?

There are many kinds of mentorship – including traditional mentorship, reverse mentorship, peer mentorship, and group membership. Though the dynamics of mentorships can vary, they all tend to share common characteristics.

  • Mentorship is a personalized, collaborative, mutually beneficial relationship

  • Most mentorships are voluntary relationships between mentors and mentees.

  • In contrast with some relationship models, mentorships are typically free, emphasizing an experience that fosters the mentee’s personal and professional development.

  • Though the mentee’s development is the focus of mentorships, usually mentors benefit from mentorships, too, making them mutually beneficial relationships.

  • Mentorship is flexible and can be short or long-term depending on the mentee’s needs

  • Focusing on particular goals can be a part of mentorship, however, usually mentoring focuses on overall growth and offers insights into the mentor’s career journey, past mistakes, lessons learned, and personal growth.

  • Mentees can navigate challenges and discover new opportunities through mentorship

  • Often a less structured relationship, mentoring allows mentors and mentees to check in regularly or when necessary in order to evaluate the mentee’s progress and goals.

  • Mentors often take a more nurturing approach to assist in a mentee’s development.

  • Most mentorships tend to be initiated informally, though formal mentorship programs are also common in all kinds of environments, from business to universities, in order to help organizations develop community meet their goals

  • Mentors may or may not receive training in order to best serve their mentees, though often more mentorship programs may provide resources to help mentors and mentees make the most of their relationships

What is coaching?

Coaching encompasses various specialties and niches tailored to address specific needs and goals of individuals and organizations.

  • Coaching is often a standardized instructional experience spear-headed by the coach, in contrast with more flexible relationships like mentorship

  • While some relationships are free, like mentorship, coaching is typically paid for on an as-needed basis

  • Coaching relationships are designed solely to improve the individual being coached, unlike mentorships which focus on the mentee but also benefit the mentor

  • Because coaching is a transactional relationship, coaches often provide services as their full-time job or offer professional coaching as part of a portfolio of services.

  • Rather than focusing on holistic development, coaching typically sets fixed objects and creates action plans to achieve one specific, measurable goal with the help of a specially-trained professional – the coach.

  • Since coaching is primarily performance driven and focuses on achieving specific, short-term goals, coaching relationships are often short-term

  • Instead of offering general, holistic advice to achieve long-term career and personal goals, coaches tend to offer immediate action items for their clients to reach their goals

  • Coaches can assist in nearly any area of field from professional development to personal wellness, and often assist clients in improving specific technical skills. Some coaches, however, assist with general development, as in the case with life coaches

  • The transactional natural of coaching makes the relationship between coach and client more formal

  • Coaches generally are trained in both their discipline, as well as coaching and pedagogy techniques, and may hold professional certifications.

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Similarities between mentoring and coaching

Comparing mentoring and coaching, we find many similarities. At their core, both mentoring and coaching are relationship-based methods to support the growth and development of the individual being mentored or coached.

Communication is the foundation of mentoring and coaching. Both mentors and coaches need to listen attentively to understand the needs, challenges, and aspirations of the individual they're working with and communicate effectively to provide guidance and support.

Both coaching and mentoring involve providing guidance, feedback, and support to the individual being mentored or coached. Whether it's offering advice, sharing experiences, asking powerful questions, or providing encouragement, mentors and coaches play a crucial role in helping individuals navigate challenges and achieve their goals.

Another characteristic shared by both relationships is confidentiality. In both mentoring and coaching, confidentiality is essential create a safe space for open and honest dialogue. This allows individuals to discuss sensitive issues, share personal experiences, and seek guidance without fear of judgment or repercussions.

Empowering individuals is also at the core of mentoring and coaching, giving individuals tools to take ownership of their development and make informed decisions. By providing guidance, encouragement, and resources, mentors and coaches help individuals build confidence, develop self-awareness, and take proactive steps towards achieving their goals.

Unfortunately, connecting with the right individuals – whether that is a mentor or a coach – can often be difficult, since we need people with the skills and experiences that can match our particular individual or organizational goals. Luckily, mentoring platforms can help pair mentees and mentors perfectly from within closed, organizational networks, or drawing upon the talent of a global community of mentors.

How mentors can use coaching techniques

Because there is much overlap between mentoring and coaching, many mentors often use coaching techniques to help mentees reach their goals. To do this, mentors draw upon the extensive training and personal life experience.

Like a coach, mentors can help mentees set goals and develop action plans to achieve them. Also like a coach, Mentors can also establish accountability mechanisms with mentees to ensure progress towards goals through regular check-ins that include goal reviews.

Mentorships with an actionable, solution-focused coaching approach, where the emphasis is on exploring concrete solutions, possibilities, and opportunities may seem much like coaching sessions. But, as we’ve seen, mentorships are typically free, mutually beneficial relationships, whereas coachings are primarily transactional.

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How to decide if a mentor or coach is right for you

Deciding whether you, as an individual, or your business needs mentorship or coaching can be difficult since they share similar techniques and goals, but with subtle differences. In some cases, combining both can provide the best solutions to optimize your goals. Let’s look at an example.

Jonathan is an IT manager who supervises the Software Development team at his company. As a recently promoted DevOps Engineer, he has excellent technical knowledge and skills, though is still gaining project management experience.

When building a new e-commerce platform, one of his first major projects to lead in his new role, Jonathan found that scope creep shifted priorities and increased workload. Combined with miscommunications, the platform’s launch was delayed, causing rippled effects through his team’s overall workload as well as the company’s ability to meet certain KPIs.

In order to improve his project management skills, Jonathan and his team might need both mentorship as well as coaching. 

A mentor with experience in project management and software development could guide Jonathan  in establishing clear project scope, setting realistic deadlines, and creating a roadmap for development. A workplace mentor could share best practices for project planning, risk management, and stakeholder communication. 

Jonathan or his team might also benefit from coaching. For example, an agile coach could introduce agile methodologies such as Scrum or Kanban to the team, promoting iterative development, continuous improvement, and adaptability to change. But, Jonathan could also find a mentor within his company or through a global mentorship network to help him learn agile practices like sprint planning, daily stand-ups, and retrospective meetings to increase efficiency and productivity.

One of the key advantages of implementing mentoring as an immediate solution to achieve personal, team, and company wide goals is that mentoring is free and voluntary. Coaching, though beneficial, can be prohibitively costly. By tapping into an existing network of internal and external mentors, individuals and organizations can efficiently fulfill short-term and long-term goals.

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Mentorship with Upnotch

Whether you’re an executive solving big problems, an entrepreneur scaling your businesses, or a professional accelerating your career, Upnotch can help you grow through mentorship 

With Upnotch, individuals receive free access to unlimited mentors and sessions. Upnotch empowers organizations to build inclusive cultures and increase employee engagement, development, and retention through mentorship.

Since 100% of Fortune companies leverage mentoring programs, according to Forbes, there’s no better time implement one in your organization to attract top talent, improve workplace culture, and increase ROI. (Source)

And, with the flexibility that Upnotch’s mentorship platform offers both individuals and businesses, elements of coaching can be incorporated into mentorships in order to achieve both holistic development and actionable results.

Virtual mentorship solutions through Upnotch can also help leaders and aspiring leaders connect anywhere, anytime in one an easy-to-use desktop and mobile platform for iOS and Android.


Get Started with Mentorship

Sign up for Upnotch today - it's free with no costs or membership fees.


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