How Does Mentoring Differ From Coaching?

September 3, 2021

As successful HR managers and business leaders, it's essential to be specific about how mentoring (as distinct from coaching) can improve the business and its people. Mentoring and coaching are two words often used synonymously in professional circles, but how do the two actually differ? Let's explore the differences, keys to success, and when the two can be used together. 

Mentoring Versus Coaching

Mentoring is the act of sharing experience, skills, and expertise with another person in the organization or industry to help them grow and advance. It’s not always a more senior person mentoring a junior – we’re seeing an increase in peer mentoring and ‘reverse’ mentoring too, where mature leaders learn from their early careers peers. Any time there’s a focused relationship, usually within a business or industry sector, aimed at personal support and development of one individual, that’s mentoring!

Often mentoring relationships are:

  • Long-Term: some of the best mentor relationships lasted year and even decades. For example, media mogul Oprah Winfrey was mentored by Maya Angelou until the latter passed away. This isn’t always the case – some mentoring is short term, or run’s it’s natural course within a few weeks or months if the value is realized and both parties organically move on.
  • Mutually Beneficial: an opportunity for mentor and mentee to develop professionally. Although the mentee stands to benefit most, the mentor gains SO MUCH too. Learning how to impart wisdom effectively is a huge skill, so mentoring can be a fantastic leadership development experience.
  • Business Internal: in many cases, organizations take the time to skill up and deploy subject matter experts within the business network to further the development of peers and colleagues, and benefit the business as a whole. It’s not always the case – many universities and accelerators also offer mentoring – but the biggest value comes from a connected network of relevant professionals. 
  • Less Structured: mentoring relationships often develop spontaneously and do not follow a specific model. Often organisations put structure and resources in place, but the best mentoring relationships take on a life of their own, and the value is delivered between the two individuals. 

On the other hand, coaching involves a, usually paid for, qualified coach working with a client to reach their full career potential. While many mentors are trained by organizations internally, coaching is typically attached to specific qualifications, grounded in psychology. Additionally, coaching tends to be highly performance-driven and grounded in evidence-based wellness techniques, and aims to enable the individual coachee to reach specific key performance indicators in their daily roles through their own reflection, choices, and learning, rather than through advice or specific direction. 

What Makes Mentoring So Effective?

Mentoring is especially effective because the mentoring-mentee relationship usually develops organically. The best mentoring outcomes are achieved when a mentee specifically seeks out and approaches the mentor with genuine curiosity, clear purpose, and intention. This can be a challenge for most mentees, who don’t have the skills or knowledge about how to identify and approach the right mentor for them, so they rely on company programmes to do it for them. This ‘matching’ through the company can sometimes feel artificial however – the mentee still stands to gain a lot,  but they have to rely on some ‘luck’ and the thoughtfulness of the programme design. 

Some Pitfalls of Launching a Mentoring Programme 

  • Lack of Training
  • Personality Clashes
  • Not Setting Expectations 
  • Lack of Commitment 
  • Lack of Organizational Support 

Many mentoring programmes are started out with the best of intentions, but often fail to deliver the impact the initially posed. We encourage companies to take a human centered design (HCD) approach to designing or improving their mentoring programme. While the company shouldn’t expect a uniform value and impact of the programme for all participants, there’s certain enhancements that really bring more mentoring ROI if the company is prepared to put some more heart, communication, and concerted talent management work into it.

Success Factors in Mentoring

  • Training: While there is no ‘rule’ that a mentor has to be trained to be effective, the more highly skilled they are at listening, knowledge transfer and networking, the better the outcomes for the mentee. 
  • Motivation: If mentor and mentee aren't both highly motivated to put all they can into the relationship, it can lead to disappointment and one-sided outcomes. Remember, we want this to be mutually beneficial! 
  • Confidentiality: There is no need to sign a non-disclosure agreement but set up expectations of privacy right off the bat, but this isn't the place to engage in office gossip. Keep the discussion professional, and ensure both mentor and mentee know where the guardrails are.

Mentoring and Coaching in Tandem

With so many differences between mentoring and coaching, can the two of them do fantastic work together? Absolutely. It's good to bring in a coach when a non-subject matter expert and unbiased person is needed outside the business to work on structured professional development, goal setting, mental models, and competency-based development. Basically, the coach will come in when there’s a specific opportunity or development need that’s non-industry specific, while the mentor can complement the coaching journey by adding industry know-how and network connections. The coach and mentor don’t need to be in direct contact to ‘sync’, but the mentee/coachee will need to make sense of the insights and goal development from both their mentoring and coaching journey and bring it into one cohesive plan through journaling, reflection, career mapping, and peer input. Running both in parallel is a lot of hard work, and probably only really necessary for leadership journeys, but it’s completely possible and very powerful.

How Can BOLDLY Help?

At BOLDLY, we pride ourselves on enabling you to find the best opportunities for career impact via access to professional coaches, tools and resources, and activities to gain self-awareness. Our parent company Lanterne Rouge can deliver the frameworks and services needed for both programme design and ongoing mentorship management. No matter what you need to further your business and the careers of your staff, BOLDLY will enable your people. 

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