We are often asked to clarify what exactly mentoring is. A good start is to distinguish it from the related field of coaching.
Mentoring and coaching have a lot in common, and in fact good mentors often use coaching skills, but there are some significant distinctions.
Coaching is often aimed at acquiring a particular skill or achieving a specific goal. You could hire a coach to help you give better sales presentations, for example, or to be a more effective manager. Mentors engage in broader relationships towards personal and career development of protégés (Everwise’s term for a person being mentored).
Most mentors do at least some coaching of their protégés, but it’s within broader scopes of activity. They may also seek advancing careers by introducing influential people or advocating within an organization. In addition to advice about the industry and possible career paths, they act as role models for their protégés. Coaching is more specifically delivered through one-on-one advisory discussions.
Most coaches are professional trainers, charging for every session or course. Mentors usually don’t charge anything – their motivation is to help other people, and pass on some of the benefits they’ve received in the past from their own mentors and experience. They also may be acting partly in self-interest, as many feel that they grow even more through interactions than their protégés do. We talk more about the issue of pay in this post.
4. Time Frame
Mentoring is a long-term commitment. Often, as covered in our Famous Protégés series, it is a lifelong relationship, with profound impact on both parties. Coaching, on the other hand, has a more deterministic time frame often defined in advance or keyed by accomplishment of certain goals. Some people do work with coaches for many years, but often it’s just a few sessions to help with a specific short-term goal.
The way coaching sessions and workplace mentoring relationships work are quite different. With a coach, you generally tell the person what area you want help with, and then the coach sets the agenda.
With mentoring, it’s usually the protégé who arranges discussions, sets the agenda and decides what to bring up during meetings. The mentor’s role tends to be careful listening and responsive advice. The dynamic varies depending on the personalities of mentor and protégé, but in general it’s more protégé-led than coaching.
Coaches are usually formally trained in coaching, with qualifications in specific areas of expertise. Mentors usually don’t have formal training as mentors, except for mentorship they’ve received as protégés themselves. They are experienced in at least some matters relevant to the protégé, whether or not that’s within a specific industry, and they commit to openly sharing the benefits of their overall experiences.
Coaching tends to be a professional arrangement, a paid service towards particular ends. People who work with the same coach for a long time can often develop a deeper relationship, of course, but it’s not the main goal.
With corporate mentoring, on the other hand, the relationship is central. Mentors are generally not being paid, so they give their advice voluntarily because of genuine desire to help and personal interest in subject matters covered. This motivation is based on strong personal bonds with their protégés.
It works the other way too. Protégés need to feel close to their mentors so that they can open up to them and talk about sensitive issues – and they need to trust that the advice they’re getting is accurate and helpful.
While these are clear distinctions, there is still a lot of common ground between coaching and enterprise mentoring. Good mentors use key coaching skills like active listening, reflection and questioning all the time. And some coaches do develop the kind of broader, long-term relationships with their clients that are normally associated with mentoring.
Successful professionals use a combination of coaching and mentoring to help them reach their various goals. Both are valuable and distinctive contributors to personal success, and it’s vital to understand their roles.