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The difference between Coaching & Mentoring by Ian Perry

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 Ian Perry (@ianperryemerge) – I hope you enjoy it!

The difference between Coaching & Mentoring

Does it matter? Not really, but intent matters!

I am aware that the debate about the difference between coaching and mentoring has gone on for some time, and I am aware that I have joined in it too. It’s probably one of those circular arguments that professionals will carry on, leaving others laughing at how we get involved in such a trivial argument.

My starting place is that coaching and mentoring have different objectives, and I work on the principle that mentoring essentially serves as a professional “friendship” and is largely being a sounding board to someone, and may involve giving advice. [Clutterbuck]

Coaching, I believe, is an approach and behaviour that has as its purpose helping people develop their own solutions and answers.

What’s more important to me is how we use these practices, and that at times as coaches, peers and managers we may find ourselves using a range of different approaches in order to help our client, peer or direct report.

Therefore, to me its all about intent. I find myself as a coach and an L&D professional using a range of approaches, and intent is about what approach I am taking based upon the person I am working with (their personality and preferences), the situation they are dealing with, and the context of their situation.

I find myself, therefore, in the moment choosing, and maybe agreeing with the person or team I am dialogue with a range of approaches that might include:

1. Empathising with their thoughts, feelings and impact
2. Asking questions
3. Giving feedback
4. Giving advice

I don’t agree with the statement that coaches don’t give advice, and only engage in active listening and asking questions, and I am not sure my clients would be too happy if that’s all I did. If I believe it will help my client I will offer advice, I will share my experience, but only to support and add to their own solutions and decision making.

I believe part of the problem are the titles we give ourselves and I pose a challenge to coaches and consultants, and maybe leads into Fridays theme about the future of coaching. Lets be clear about what we are selling and what our approach is. If we coach, then lets call ourselves coaches. If however we offer consultancy or business advise then lets call ourselves Consultants and Business Mentors. They are noble professions but lets not grab titles because they are sexy right now!

Does it matter if there is a difference between coaching and mentoring. No I don’t believe so. Intent is what matters, and lets use a range of approaches if it helps our clients, peers and direct reports to perform better and be more fulfilled, even happy. That’s what matters. Isn’t it?

Ian Perry (@ianperryemerge)


3 thoughts on “The difference between Coaching & Mentoring by Ian Perry

  1. Hi Ian
    I like your focus on intent. I have mused on this question a bit (not a lot!) and feel that the skills set (deep listening, open questioning and feedback) are the key things that unite coaching and mentoring. Then there is the inquiry/advocacy continuum that we move along but as you say – be clear about where you mainly operate from and then be flexible according to client need or the context you are operating in….


    Posted by Clare Manning | May 23, 2013, 4:42 PM


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