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Coaching vs. Mentoring: Key Differences & Benefits (2024) 

What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring? 

In today’s coaching vs. mentoring post, you’ll learn: 

  • How to define a coach and a mentor
  • The key differences and similarities between coaching and mentoring 
  • Benefits of coaching and mentoring

Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!

You’ll learn…

What is a coach?

Before we get into coaching vs. mentoring, let’s start by defining what a coach is and how they help their clients.

Definition of coaching 

A coach is someone who works with clients to achieve a goal. 

And the industry is growing fast – check out these coaching stats:

  • Coaching is a $2.85 billion global industry
  • There are 23,000 certified coaches in the US (71,000 worldwide)
  • 99% of people who work with a coach are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the experience

Coaches use their experience to mentor you. Ultimately, they help you go through a transformation

The coaching relationship you have with your coach can last anywhere from a few months to several years. 

(For example, if someone helps you get fit and you get the results you want, you might work with them for a long time to help you keep those results.)

Traditionally, coaching is about asking probing questions such as:

“How do you feel about that?” 

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“What do you think is holding you back at this moment?”

But these days, coaching is moving more towards what I like to refer to as a coach-sultant, or a combination of a coach and consultant. 

Think about it like this:

Traditional coaches are there to guide someone toward the result they want by asking strategic questions that allow for self-exploration. However, they aren’t responsible for providing a clear roadmap.

A coach-sultant, on the other hand, still guides each client but provides some direction by sprinkling in their own experiences when applicable. 

I like this approach because it keeps clients from finding all the answers themselves. 

Moreover, it deepens the connection and can give them a better, faster way to achieve their goals.

There are several different situations and niches in which a coach is beneficial. These include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Relationship coaches
  • Health and wellness coaches
  • Career coaches
  • Mindset coaches

Are you interested in learning more about what types of coaches are available? Check out my guide to 100 of the most common niches here.

I also talk more about what coaching is here:

But what skills does a coach need? Let’s find out. 

Skills needed for coaching 

Coaching is a largely unregulated field, which means that there’s no need for a coach to hold a certification or qualification. (With a few exceptions – some health coaching niches require a certification.) 

Instead, what a coach needs is the type of experience and expertise necessary to help their clients reach a goal – because they’ve achieved it themselves.

For example, my student Ruby worked for years as a matchmaker at companies like eHarmony. Today, she offers coaching programs to men on how to build successful relationships.   

Screenshot of Good gentleman website

That said, there are several skills that every successful coach should have, regardless of niche.

Leading

No two clients are alike.

That’s why a coach should be able to create a tailor-made plan for each unique situation to get great results from the start.

Providing a vision

Coaches should be able to provide a vision for their clients. 

What I mean by that is that they should be able to push a client to achieve more. 

Guiding

A good coach will do more than just create a client plan. 

Instead, they’ll take the time to show their clients how to successfully reach their goals, step-by-step, in a timely fashion.

Problem-solving

Roadblocks and obstacles are a natural part of life, especially for clients.

But instead of allowing a client to get deterred, a coach needs to be able to step in and help come up with a solution that will get them back on track.

Holding people accountable

Finally, a coach needs to be comfortable with accountability.

Even when a client wants to give up, a coach should know how to gently remind them of what they’re working toward and how they’ll get there.

Above all, each coach should follow what I call the ABCs of coaching: Providing actionable advice, believing in their clients, and being honest. 

So, now you know what a coach is. But what about mentors? 

Let’s take a look. 

What is a mentor?

Just like we did with coaching, let’s talk about what a mentor actually is.

Definition of a mentor

A mentor is an experienced and trusted guide, teacher, or expert in a field. 

Their primary focus is on the mentee’s professional development. That’s why so many mentor-mentee relationships are between senior- and lower-level professionals in the same industry.

However, mentoring relationships can also focus on things like good management and leadership skills. 

Over the course of the relationship, it’s up to mentors to share relevant and specific knowledge, experiences, and skills they’ve built throughout their own careers. 

While the relationship can be long-term, it typically depends on the people involved, how often they meet, and what kind of goals they’re working toward. 

Skills needed for mentoring

Several skills are specific to mentors and meant to help encourage career development.

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They include:

Instructing

A mentor is a teacher.

So they have to be comfortable providing instructions and know how to develop their mentee further. 

They don’t give formal speeches or lectures the same way a teacher does. But they should be able to communicate their ideas clearly in a tutor-like environment. 

Providing correcting feedback

Just like coaches, mentors have to be comfortable offering sincere, positive feedback.

But they should be equally comfortable creating constructive feedback that allows the mentee to better handle whatever situation they face.

Opening doors

Most often, mentors are in the kind of position that allows them to further their mentee’s career. 

That means they have to be good at introducing their mentee to the right people and putting a good word in. They should also be able to get them noticed and offer them the chance to interact with others.

Inspiring

Above all, a mentor knows how to inspire by offering good examples, providing inspirational experiences, and challenging them to do more.

Differences between a coach and mentor

So, when would you use coaching instead of mentoring? 

At this point, you might be wondering if there are any fundamental differences between mentoring and coaching programs.

The truth is, they do feel very similar – but they aren’t!

The mission of both coaches and mentors is the same: 

To support someone in reaching their goals.

Both work with personal development in some shape or form. 

But even though a coach can be a mentor, a mentor can’t be a coach.

Let’s talk about some of the most important differences.

Cost

Mentors offer pro-bono support, meaning there’s no guarantee that a mentee will see results. 

On the other hand, coaching relationships are paid relationships. 

They include a contract that focuses on results and includes a certain number of coaching sessions. If the coach and the person being coached don’t fulfill their obligations, they’d be breaching the contract.  

Length of relationship

Mentors are typically considered to be less accessible for most people than coaches.

That’s because even with the right network, creating a connection deep enough to evolve into a mentor-mentee relationship can take years. 

Once that mentoring relationship is built, though, it tends to continue over the span of both participants’ careers. But there is, of course, no guarantee for the mentor to continue mentoring their mentee. 

On the other hand, a coaching relationship is based on the client’s goals. It could last as little as three months. 

Whatever the duration of the relationship, it’s based on the client’s goals and outlined in the coaching contract. 

Guidance

Coaches ask their clients questions and guide at the same time.

Mentors only offer guidance and advice. 

Responsibilities

Both mentors and coaches hope for the best outcomes. 

But only coaches work systematically with their clients to achieve them. 

Unlike a coach, who has signed a contract, a mentor isn’t obligated to continue the relationship.

Reason for the relationship

Finally, the reasons that people want a mentor or a coach are entirely different.

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Mentees will typically only look for a mentor when they want to develop themselves professionally. 

But a coaching relationship can start at any time. 

If there’s ever something you want to learn, a skill you’d like to develop, or you just need some extra support or guidance, that’s when you can turn to a coach. 

While there can be in the workplace (leadership and business coaching), there are plenty of coaching niches for your personal life. 

The main benefits of mentoring and coaching

Both coaching and mentoring have great benefits. 

Coaching is now a $2.85 billion global industry. If you’re thinking about getting a coach but aren’t sure quite yet, consider the following statistics:

  • When it comes to coaching, the median ROI is 7x the investment
  • Nearly 3 in 4 coaching clients have improved their relationships, communication, work-life balance, and wellness
  • Over half of companies with a strong coaching culture report higher rates of revenue than their industry competitors
  • 99% of those who work with a coach say they’re satisfied or very satisfied with the experience
  • 28% of coaches have relationships that last longer than seven months

You might also consider mentoring because:

Both options are valuable. 

Whether you work with a mentor or a coach, you’ll learn from someone who’s been where you are and succeeded.

Next steps 

There you have it – your guide to the key differences between coaching and mentoring. 

While they are similar, there are big differences, too. Ultimately, whether you want to become a mentor or a coach or get one for yourself – look at the type of relationship you want and the results you’re looking to achieve. 

After all, becoming a coach or mentor can be incredibly impactful. You help people improve themselves and achieve things they might have dreamed of for a long time. 

Want to learn how to build your own coaching business? 

Get my blueprint for starting your own six-figure coaching business: 

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Read more: 

Coaching vs Consulting

Benefits of Coaching

About Luisa Zhou

Luisa Zhou has helped thousands of students build and scale their own profitable online Freedom Business. Fun Fact: She used to work as an engineer for the Space Station and holds a B.S.E. from Princeton. Click here to learn more about Luisa.

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