In the course of your professional growth and development, many hands should play a part—regardless of your career stage.  No matter your level of experience or success, there is always more to learn, and the very best recognize this.  Few experiences speed along the professional and career progress of an individual than having mentors and coaches.  Mentors and coaches can serve you early or late in your career—or anywhere in between.  While the roles and tasks of mentors and coaches often seem similar, there are clear and important distinctions.  The differences determine what you need, when, why and for how long.

Differentiator #1:

Coaching is performance driven. Coaches are engaged to improve an individual’s on-the-job performance. This may involve enhancing current skills, acquiring new skills or both. This normally requires metric oriented performance reviews and time lines for achievement.  But the ultimate purpose is to improve a defined performance.  Once the skills are acquired and mastered, the coach is no longer needed.

Mentoring is development driven. Mentors guide the development of their mentees for the current job performance, but also for potential positions in the future. The scope of development extends beyond skill and knowledge acquisition and application to include incubating the mentee’s professional aspirations, personal motivations and lifestyle choices. Mentee development is targeted toward both career success and personal satisfaction.

Differentiator #2:

Coaching is short term. A coach can successfully be involved with a client for a short period of time, maybe even just a few sessions. The coaching lasts for as long as is needed, depending on the performance goal established.  Once the skill set is acquired, and performance demonstrated, the coaching relationship concludes.

Mentoring is long term. The best mentoring relationships are long-term relationships. In fact, the longer the relationship, the better the experience for both mentor and mentee.  Development is a long-term process.  To be successful, mentoring requires time in which both partners can learn about one another and build a climate of trust that creates an environment in which the mentee can feel secure in sharing the real issues that impact his or her success. Successful mentoring relationships last at least a year and many continue for a lifetime.

Difference #3:  

Coaching is task oriented. A coach is oriented toward completing a specific, concrete, practical mission. This may include developing professionally relevant skills such as effective leadership, communication skills, or planning and preparation. Coaching is also useful for preparing for significant events such as an important meeting or interview, speech, or project completion.  A good coach is an experienced content expert who is able to teach others the skills and knowledge necessary to perform well and complete the task.

Mentoring is relationship oriented. Mentoring requires a safe environment where the mentee shares whatever issues affect his or her professional success and personal satisfaction. Although specific learning goals or competencies may be used as a basis for creating the relationship, its focus goes beyond these areas to include issues such as work/life balance, self-confidence, self-perception, and how the personal influences the professional.  The level of trust and personal understanding needed during mentoring demands a firm relationship be established and nurtured.

Differentiator #4:

The Coach sets the agenda.  Coaching begins with an assessment of an individual’s skillset, experience level, motivations, aspirations and knowledge base in a particular areas or field (e.g., career, leadership).  Based on this analysis, the coach sets a performance target goal or goals, and then structures a progressive agenda or plan to meet those goals, usually on a specific timeline.

The Mentee sets the agenda.  In the most successful mentoring experiences, it is who sets the agenda. The mentee should enter the relationship with a particular agenda containing both a set of goals and identified strategies for meeting those goals (i.e. ‘what do I want to get out of this experience, and how?’).  Then in discussions with the mentor goals may be modified and strategies reviewed until there is mutual agreement on both the goals to be achieved and the steps to be taken in achieving those goals.

Differentiator # 5:  

Coaching is founded on a professional relationship. Due to both the temporary nature and tight focus on a specific performance outcome, the relationship between a coach and client remains largely professional.  Through the course of interaction, the coach and client may get to know one another on a personal level, but the purpose of their relationship remains solely results orientd, and consequently professional.

Mentoring is founded on a relationship blending personal and professional.  Due to the long-term and developmental orientation of a mentoring relationship, it is not only natural, but desirable for the relationship to begin primarily as professional but then evolve into a combination of personal and professional. In the course of the mentee’s development, they will often require a heavy dose of social-emotional support from the mentor, a trusted advisor, a counselor on personal matters influenced by professional decisions, and a role model.

© 2019 Dr. Paul Schempp is an award-winning researcher, keynote speaker, author, consultant and recognized authority on leading high performing teams. To have Paul speak at your next event, call 706.202.0516, email him at or visit his website