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Mentoring or coaching – what’s the difference?

Mentoring and coaching - two development techniques, often used interchangeably and considered similar or the same in meaning - but are they really? The simple answer is no, although it’s not always easy to explain the differences. Those in the know, who are familiar with both techniques, generally agree they are not the same thing, but if asked to explain the differences, things do get a little muddy!

Mentoring and coaching are highly valued training/development techniques which, the CIPD defines as ‘the use of one-to-one discussions to enhance an individual’s skills, knowledge or performance’, and according to the CIPD, have more similarities than differences.

According to ‘Management Mentors’ however there are as many as twenty-five differences between coaching and mentoring and for the purpose of this article, we will look at the top three differentiators in more detail:

1. Coaching is task oriented; mentoring is relationship oriented

Coaching tends to focus on particular issues for example, managing more effectively or learning how to think strategically, whilst mentoring on the other hand, is more relationship orientated and seeks to provide a safe environment, in which the mentee can share issues that may affect his or her professional and personal success.

Although specific learning goals can be used in mentoring, as a basis for creating the mentor/mentee relationship, its focus goes beyond those areas to include such things as work/life balance and self-confidence.

2. Coaching is short term; mentoring is always long term

Coaching usually has a set duration and is more structured in nature with success often achieved in just a few sessions.

Mentoring, to be successful, is an ongoing relationship that can last for a long period of time. Time is essential for creating an environment of safety, security and trust between both the mentor and mentee. Mentoring can be more informal with meetings taking place as and when the mentee needs some advice, guidance or support.

3. Coaching is performance driven; mentoring is development driven

Coaching is intended to improve an individual's performance at work by either enhancing their current skills or helping them acquire new ones, with a focus generally on achieving specific, immediate goals. Once these goals have been achieved the coach is no longer required.

With mentoring, the idea is to develop the individual, not only in their current role, but for their future as well, with a focus on career and personal development. The agenda is often set by the mentee, with the mentor providing support and guidance.

Whether you consider coaching and mentoring to be the same, or completely different, there is no doubt that both have a vital part to play in the development of staff in the workplace. Mentoring and coaching have been shown to contribute to enhanced performance and career development, upward career mobility, overall career satisfaction and greater self-esteem at work.

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