coaching vs mentoring

What is the difference between mentoring and coaching?

What is the difference between mentoring and coaching?
by Dr. Michael Wolter
Program Director and Associate Professor of Management and Leadership

One of the first questions asked every time I provide a workshop or a lecture on mentoring is, “What is the difference between mentoring and coaching?”

Coaches develop abilities in individuals or groups, provide direction and vision, and offer instruction, resources, and support on specific skills to enhance capabilities. Coaching focuses on task and performance evaluation based on observation. Coaches provide goals for the learner and continuously measure performance over time.

Mentoring has some overlap with coaching, but the difference is important. “A mentor is a more experienced individual willing to share knowledge with someone less experienced in a relationship of mutual trust” (David Clutterbuck, 2019). Like coaches, mentors provide guidance and support, but focus on the mentee as a whole, rather than on a specific ability or skill. Mentors approach the development their mentees holistically, considering what drives them and what challenges they might face on the path to their mutually agreed upon goals.

In addition to providing input and education on skill and ability development, mentors help their mentees expand their understanding of the “culture” of their organization of membership, help to instill attitudes and values that will benefit the mentees, and through teachable moments, provide opportunities for them to grow through self-discovery.

To be successful as a mentor, one must have and develop:

  • Commitment to learning and helping others learn
  • Strong listening skills
  • Empathy
  • Rapport building
  • Encouragement, especially helping the mentee to share and open up
  • Observation and reflection on mentees' actions, as well as their own, for growth purposes
  • Ability to provide teachable moments
  • Self-awareness, self-reflection, and understanding what motivates and challenges others
  • Ability to see life experiences as sources of wisdom and knowledge
  • Examining the mentee's perspectives, thinking, and biases
  • Understanding of organizational politics
  • Willingness to share positive and negative life experiences
  • Allowing the mentee to succeed or fail for learning experiences
  • Relationship management in addition to the mentee's goals

Simply put, mentors offer their vast knowledge, expertise, experience, and advice to those under their guidance. By leveraging their life experiences and skills, mentors guide mentees in a direction aligned with their goals. Mentors consider all elements of their mentees' lives when observing, assessing, and supporting them. Mentors assist mentees in considering unrecognized opportunities as career growth, confidence development, self-reflection, and interpersonal skills improvement. The support is based on mentors' own life experiences, beliefs, and values.

Clutterbuck, D. (2019, October 4). The Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching. Retrieved January 13, 2020, from

Click here to learn more about Goodwin's Management and Leadership offerings.