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The difference between Coaching & Mentoring by David Goddin

This week is ICF’s International Coaching Week and it’s a great opportunity to celebrate & discuss coaching. Each weekday I’m hosting blogs from a variety of authors exploring an aspect of coaching. You can read all the posts this week here & follow them on Twitter using #coachingblogs.

The topic for today is “The difference between Coaching & Mentoring” which some might say has been debated ad nauseam yet the debate continues and clients are still unclear. I’m not sure if we’ll create a definitive answer but we’ll certainly aim to create some clarity!

This post has been written by yours truly (@changecontinuum) – I hope you enjoy it!

The difference between Coaching & Mentoring

This debate has been ongoing for quite some time and shows no likelihood of stopping or even slowing down. In fact many coach training courses actively encourage individuals to build their own perspectives on the differences rather than teach a common definition.

Some of the professional bodies are moving closer to having shared views of what both coaching & mentoring constitute yet the general stance on inclusivity (i.e. there are many forms) indicates a universal definition isn’t coming soon. Even the academics seem to still tinker with their own individual definitions. Actually, Bob Garvey wrote a very good little book developing a critical perspective on coaching & mentoring and the ‘many truths’ that exist. I can thoroughly recommend it if you want a deeper back story.

So specifying the difference between Coaching & Mentoring is clearly not easy to do and perhaps it has limited value…

So Who Cares?

It’s important to know & describe how we are going to work with a client and what boundaries exist or are required. In our own work it’s important to develop a mutual understanding with our clients. However, does it mean that we must have a common universal definition? Perhaps a diversity of views is helpful… Take a look on Google for these search strings and this is what you get :-

    • “difference between management and leadership” – 464,000 results
    • “difference between training and development” – 206,000 results
    • “difference between coaching and mentoring” – 79,700 results
    • “difference between hr and personnel” – 68,300 results

Maybe a diversity of perspectives is a natural and positive thing? Actually, as I wrote here I don’t believe orthodoxy is necessarily a good thing at all when we look at competence & mastery. So who cares about the difference between coaching & mentoring then? We know they are different and maybe that’s enough? What further definition would be useful?

From my experience, I think there’s a little spoken and slightly unpalatable truth… this debate about the difference between coaching & mentoring seems very much to be one stimulated and perpetuated by those involved in coaching, not those who are mentoring.

The real difference is money

I’m going to stick my neck out a bit further here… The real difference between coaching and mentoring at the moment is money.

Most activities related to coaching in the workplace will in some way, shape or form have a revenue generating business model behind it. There are exceptions but just ask any L&D, OD or HRD how many approaches they get from coaches or coach training companies… actually don’t they might just scream and run away!

I suspect that coaching is a great example of how negative influences can emerge when definitions are broad or non-specific and buyer awareness is still improving. However, good revenue generating business models can provide valued services to clients and also be a positive influence on the market. It feels to me as though the intent is what makes the difference.

Over recent years the UK market has burgeoned with coach training programmes, accreditation, supervision, even marketing programmes for coaches and “out of the box” online coaching platforms… I’m sure they all have value when used for the benefit of the client.  So how come most of these could easily be applied to mentoring yet almost never are? Why do we never hear mention of supervision for mentors?

Take a look at most mentoring in the UK and you’ll see that much of it is free from this definitional angst and it’s often provided free or pro-bono. Although it might benefit a business it is seldom about making money. It seems to rise above the cacophony of the commercial world of coaching.

It’s a harsh reality. I think it’s a meaningful difference.

What do you think?


4 thoughts on “The difference between Coaching & Mentoring by David Goddin

  1. Mentoring has been in use way way before coaching became ‘fashionable’. Now it is the ‘poor relation’ perhaps because it is more widespread, accessible and used by more people…it hasn’t got that exclusive status.
    I remember voicing similar opinions about money being the difference at an open coaching debate some years and was in the minority then!
    Re supervision, the same as coaching. All the mentoring programmes I work with has supervision included for mentors


    Posted by verawoodhead | May 23, 2013, 6:51 AM
    • Many thanks for adding here Vera! I think the words “fashionable” & “exclusive” well reflect the dominant narrative for externally provided coaching and with a very narrow commercial focus – self interest even? External coaching can and should be accessible at many levels in organisations – I believe that the barrier is this mindset of “exclusivity”, not pricing or availability of coaches.

      Funnily, I know attention, investment and commercial interest in mentoring is very different but I’ve never seen it as the “poor relation”. For me mentoring is a higher, and possibly more wise partnership – funding wise it is of course financially poorer and probably your point!

      The mentoring programmes I work in also have supervision but I guess my point was two-fold… firstly it’s an integral part of the programme not another facet to bolt on, with separate practitioners. Secondly, qualified supervisors are chasing the coaching money and to be honest I’m not even sure they think they are qualified to support mentors… so no disagreement but I’ve probably not made that point deeply enough! It’s a symptom of the state of the market and the difference between coaching & mentoring.


      Posted by David Goddin | May 23, 2013, 7:18 AM
  2. Great article David, I can’t see the debate reaching a conclusion for some time yet! In fact as in the words of Garvey, Stokes & Megginson (2009) “…it is very unlikely that there will ever be widespread consensus as to the meaning of coaching and mentoring in any particular context.”

    Our approach is to discuss and seek to understand with the client what ‘their’ view is and most importantly to ensure we clearly define what it is we are actually working on together, the purpose and elements of the programme so we have a shared understanding of the work we are doing. What they (or we) choose to call it then becomes almost irrelevant.

    Great blogging week – I look forward to the next one!



    Posted by PurplePatch Coaching (@purplepatchinfo) | May 23, 2013, 8:14 AM


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