Coach or mentor?

Are you a coach or a mentor in the workplace? If you're unsure, you're not alone.


As a coach, I am often asked whether I provide coaching or mentoring. As someone with 20+ years in leadership and management, qualified three years ago as a coach and has been a mentor at various stages in my career, I now feel I have navigated the world of both and can offer how I approach my coaching sessions with both corporate and private clients.

While these two roles share some similarities, they also have important differences that can impact the way you support and guide others. Whether you're a manager looking to develop your team, an experienced professional hoping to share your knowledge, or simply someone who wants to make a difference in the lives of others, understanding the distinctions between coaching and mentoring can be key to achieving your goals. In this article, we'll explore the benefits of both approaches and help you determine which one might be best for your unique situation.

Defining coaching and mentoring

What are the key differences and similarities between these two approaches?


  • Typically short-term.
  • Focused on developing skills, behaviours and attitudes to improve performance.
  • Uses goal setting and actions to move coachee from A to B quicker than on their own.
  • The coach draws out of the coachee what they already know.
  • Uses open purposeful questions to open up the coachee's thinking, looking at different perspectives.
  • Less personal involvement.
  • No advice or guidance is given.
  • The coach does not need knowledge of the coachee's area of work.


  • Typically long-term.
  • Focused on overall career development.
  • Advice and guidance are provided.
  • The mentor shares their own experience.
  • The mentor gives information that the mentee does not know.
  • Greater personal involvement and investment in the mentee's success.
  • The mentor is someone who is an expert in the mentee's area of work.


  • Both involve a trusted relationship between the two parties with confidentiality at the centre.
  • Both focus on the present and future.
  • Both use the core skills of active listening and effective questioning.
  • Both can have a positive impact on the mentee or coachee's personal and professional growth.

The benefits of coaching 

How do the individuals within the organisation benefit?

The personal benefits of coaching are wide-ranging and can positively impact an individual’s career and personal life. 

The individuals I have coached in the corporate arena, cite increased self-awareness, improved productivity and improved communication with their teams as being the most beneficial. Without fail, they all state that the coaching sessions gave them time to reflect and think which they found to be invaluable and allowed them to generate ideas/solutions that they would not otherwise of thought of. Having a coach gives the individual a safe space to go and talk through sensitive issues. 

Self-awareness is a critical quality for leadership success and whilst most of my clients say they feel they are self-aware, all of them have revealed that they have benefited from reflecting on their thoughts, emotions, and beliefs. 

Improved communication with team members has been cited on numerous occasions. Many managers have reported their performance review meetings have significantly improved due to their improved use of powerful questions such as “What do you want to happen?”, “What support do you need with that?” and “What will you do first?” All of them have stated that they are making a concerted effort to be more present when listening to their staff and focusing on actively listening to them.

Improved productivity has come as a result of them stopping solving other people’s problems, so they are not taking on other people’s work. In addition, by using the coaching session to generate ideas and work through issues, they are becoming more productive. They all have seen by investing time in reflection allows them to gain more time for themselves.

The benefits of mentoring

What unique advantages does mentoring offer?

The dictionary definition of a mentor is a person with “Experience in a job that supports and advises someone with less experience to help them develop in their work." Contrary to a coach, a mentor’s focus is on an individual and not on helping to solve a specific problem of a client. The mentor acts as a trusted guide and advisor for the mentee, with the main goal of transferring knowledge relatively informally and over a long period of time.

They share their own experience and offer advice and guidance to the mentee. They do ask questions, but these are often leading questions rather than open questions used in coaching. A mentor gives information that the mentee does not know, helping bridge their skills and knowledge gaps. I was given a mentor when I was a new senior leader and found the relationship helpful at the time, it allowed me to bounce ideas around and ask for help with difficult situations. The mentor/mentee relationship can be extremely valuable to both parties and in many cases can last for a long time.

When to use coaching

In what situations is coaching the best approach?

Improving performance: When an individual or team is struggling to meet specific goals or achieve a desired level of performance, coaching can help them identify areas for improvement, develop new skills and strategies, and stay motivated and focused on their objectives.

Problem-solving: Coaching is a powerful approach to problem-solving because it focuses on empowering the person/team who is facing the problem to find their own solutions. Rather than providing direct solutions, a coach helps the individual/team to identify their strengths, resources, and options for addressing the problem.

Leadership development: Coaching can be an effective way to develop the leadership skills of emerging or established leaders. A coach can help a leader understand their strengths and weaknesses, identify areas for growth, and work on specific behaviours or habits that will make them more effective in their role.

Career development: When an individual has become unhappy or stuck in their career and wants to explore changing careers, a coach can help them get clarity on what is important to them, identify their strengths and skills and help them set goals and actions to make the shift.

Team building: Coaching can be effective in building stronger teams by helping team members communicate better, work together more effectively, and resolve conflicts in a constructive manner.

Change management: When an organisation is undergoing significant change, coaching can help individuals and teams adapt to new roles, responsibilities, and expectations. A coach can also provide support and guidance to help individuals manage the stress and uncertainty that often accompany major organisational changes.

When to use mentoring

In what situations is mentoring the best approach?

Induction: When new employees join an organisation, allocating them a mentor can help them navigate the company culture, understand their roles and responsibilities, and develop relationships with their colleagues. It is common in education for new teachers to be assigned a mentor who will guide and support them through their early career years.

Succession planning: Mentoring can be a useful tool in preparing individuals to take on more senior roles within an organisation. By providing guidance and support, a mentor can help a mentee develop the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in a new role. Continuing the mentoring relationship when they are in their new role can also be extremely valuable.

Knowledge transfer: Mentoring can be effective in transferring knowledge and expertise from experienced employees to newer or less experienced colleagues. This can help ensure that critical institutional knowledge is passed down and retained within an organisation.

Diversity and inclusion: Mentoring can be used to support the development and advancement of individuals from underrepresented groups within an organisation. By providing mentorship and guidance, organisations can help address issues related to diversity, equity, and inclusion.

Combining coaching and mentoring

How can these two approaches be used together to achieve even greater results?

In my opinion, you can combine the two very effectively if you have similar work-related experience. I have found many of the managers I work with as a coach also want some mentoring surrounding their leadership and management.

Points to consider:

  • Ask your client what they want from you; this will enable you to assess what they are looking for. If they state they would like to ask for your advice and hear your past experiences and opinions, you know they are looking for mentoring as well as coaching. I ask at the start of every session as sometimes my clients want pure coaching and other times a blend of the two depending on what they want to explore.
  • Explain the differences between coaching and mentoring; this is to ensure they understand what you are offering and they can choose what approach they want.
  • If they want a blend of both coaching and mentoring, explain how you will approach this in the session. For example, I always tell the client that I will approach the session in coaching mode but will tell them when I am going to switch to mentoring and ask for their permission to do so. Or, you may choose to use 75% of the session in coaching mode and allow the last quarter to switch to mentoring mode so you don't lose the flow of the session. Play around with it and find out what works for you and your client.

My coachees who have had a blend of both styles say they get a lot of benefit from it, especially if they are new managers, as they are often hungry for your knowledge and experience so they can pick and choose what they want to try and get an experienced perspective on a problem.

As the world of coaching and mentoring in the workplace continues to grow, you must be clear about the role you play. Your job title may include the word 'coach' or 'mentor' but, as it means different things to different people, you must get clarity on what is expected from you.  

I hope this article has helped you with your thinking in your coach/mentor role. If it has sparked more curiosity, then please reach out to me as I would love to connect with you. I leave you with three questions to ask yourself:

  1. Are you a coach who also mentors or are you a mentor who uses a coaching style?
  2. How is this defined and communicated within your organisation?
  3. How do you explain your approach to your clients?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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