What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Mentoring?

’Tis the season for basketball, football, and hockey, so many of us are busy watching coaches roam the sidelines on the court, field, or rink. In today’s Advisor, Dr. Susan G. Weinberger, president of the Mentor Consulting Group in Norwalk, CT, USA, coaches US on the differences between coaching and mentoring. Or does she mentor us? At any rate, read on for valuable information from Dr. Weinberger …

The American writer George Matthew Adams once observed that “many moments of personal success and fulfillment in an individual’s life come about through encouragement from someone else.” No doubt you can remember those who impacted your life when you were young, during the school years, involvement in community activities, at your first job and, perhaps, at the job you hold now.

Whether the support came informally or through a deliberate, formal program, helping you personally or professionally, there is no doubt that others can be easily identified who influenced and shaped your future. Those were or are your mentors.

Typically, informal mentoring programs do not have a structure, time limit, or support from a sponsoring business or other organization. How often the mentor and protégé meet is up to them. There are no entrance requirements.

Formal mentoring programs are long-term. They have minimum requirements, including selection of participants, training, support, and frequency of meetings between mentor and mentee.

Coaching and mentoring: different goals, different methods

Establishing an internal mentoring program is not a new idea. In fact, a front page article in the Harvard Business Review in 1978 declared, “Everyone who makes it has a mentor.” Until recently, however, business has been less involved in establishing formal mentoring programs for employees, focusing more on internal coaching.

It is easy to get confused about the differences between coaching and mentoring. The purpose and expected outcome of each is distinctly different, although, at times, some overlap exists. For example, coaching, which provides specific feedback, can be used within mentoring. But as Lorraine Stomski, senior vice

president of Aon Consulting, explained, mentoring is more holistic than coaching in that it develops the whole individual through guidance, coaching, and development opportunities.

An employee serving as the “coach” assists another colleague, known as the protégé, in order to improve the latter’s job performance. The purpose is often to work with the protégé toward the goal of climbing the ladder of success and getting ahead.

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Some companies even offer reverse coaching. That is, a senior employee who has perhaps been in the company for several decades is coached by a newer, junior employee in areas such as computers and advanced technology. Research informs that these kinds of formal coaching efforts improve career success and employee morale and retention.

Mentoring, unlike coaching, is far more personal and friendship-based, offering nonjudgmental support as a positive role model and focusing on a mentee’s longer-term personal development. The mentor makes suggestions. The relationship is neither formally evaluated nor connected to job advancement but rather to personal improvement.

According to Lois J. Zachary, president of Leadership Development Services in Phoenix, “The mentee or protégé has gone from being a passive learner—where the mentoring is done to you as you sit at the foot of the master—to an active learner who directs the process. It’s much more collaborative now; there is more precision and structure.”

Many companies do not choose between implementing a coaching or mentoring program. They often implement both programs to meet different employee needs. When Jack Welch, former chairman of General Electric, stated that a strong mentor/mentee relationship is the basis of forging tomorrow’s leaders, I suspect that he recognized this as an outcome of both internal coaching and mentoring programs.

The chart below demonstrates some of the differences between coaching and mentoring.





Improve job performance or skills

Support and guide personal career growth


Coach directs learning

Mentee is in charge of learning


Protégé agrees to accept coaching; may not be voluntary

Both mentor and mentee are volunteers


Immediate problems and learning opportunities

Longer-term personal development


Focus on telling with appropriate feedback

Focus on listening, behavioral role model, making suggestions and connections


Short-term needs; “as needed”

Longer term

(Source: Coaching and Mentoring—Harvard Business Essentials—2004)

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Benefits of implementing an internal mentoring program

The business community in this nation is seeking employee retention, productivity, satisfaction on the job and improved morale, leadership, pride, and social responsibility. Creating corporate citizenship programs leads to competitive differentiation and stakeholder loyalty. Mentoring plays a critical role in personal combined with professional development. Mentors help their mentees over the speed bumps, providing needed support and encouragement. They offer advice and guidance and promote enhanced self-confidence. They foster pride in the organization and boost organization communication.

Mentors and mentees work together to discover and develop the mentee’s talents. The mentor offers perspective, insight, support, and wisdom based on experience. The good news is that mentoring is two directional. Usually mentors gain as much if not more rewards from working with a mentee, including enhancing their own leadership skills, satisfaction, and personal fulfillment.

A word of caution: Not all employees make good mentors. Business should identify individuals to serve as mentors who are outstanding employees and who set positive examples for others. These are employees who like people, who are committed and willing to set aside the time to work with a mentee. They are consistent and confidential, have a superb work ethic, are patient and responsible, are positive role models and have a genuine interest in developing others and sensitivity to others’ needs and development, and possess excellent listening skills.

Dr. Susan G. Weinberger, president of the Mentor Consulting Group in Norwalk, CT, USA, is an international expert on internal and external business mentoring and coaching programs. Susan has a B.S. degree from Carnegie-Mellon University and her doctorate from the School of Business and Public Management at the University of Bridgeport. She is widely published, and a consultant to numerous corporations, community agencies, schools, and four federal agencies. Affectionately known as Dr. Mentor, Susan can be reached at or

Why It Matters

  • Experienced staffers are probably the greatest source of training content that you can access.
  • Successful coaching and mentoring programs can make great use of that content while also strengthening employee morale.
  • These programs are good for coaches and players and for mentors and mentees because both groups develop more skills and gain more knowledge in a mutually beneficial relationship.

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