How is coaching different from mentoring?

By Barry Sweeny, © 2001

How is coaching different from mentoring? Do we need both?

Coaching is the support for technical, skills-related learning and growth which is provided by another person who uses observation, data collection and descriptive, non judgmental reporting on specific requested behaviors and techniques. Coaches must use open-ended questions to help the other person more objectively see their own patterns of behavior and to prompt reflection, goal-setting, planning and action to increase the desired results. Although not always the case, often the coaching is focused on learning job-related skills and the coaching is provided by a professional colleague.

Mentoring is the all-inclusive description of everything done to support protégé orientation and professional development. Coaching is one of the sets of strategies which mentors must learn and effectively use to increase their protégés’ skills and success. In other words, we need both mentoring and coaching to maximize learning and development.

Essentially then, coaching is technical support focused on development of the techniques effective employees must know and be able to do, while mentoring is the larger context and developmentally appropriate process for learning of technique and all of the other professional and personal skills and understandings needed for success.

For this reason, the author refers most often just to “mentoring”, since by his own definition, mentoring includes coaching.