Brian Farrell · Coach

Coach or Mentor — What’s the Difference?

The words “coach” and “mentor” are often used as synonyms, but they do not mean the same thing. It's important to know the differences when working on your personal development.

A coach is someone hired to help you achieve goals. Coaching is usually short-term (measured often in months) and task oriented. My approach is different. We'll identify the overarching theme for your life. And then help you along a path that aligns with your theme.

A mentor is usually someone in your profession who has more experience than you. Mentors are relationship-based, often giving general advice and guidance, rather then specific solutions. The relationship tends to be long-term.

campers holding a compass on a green trail mapSimilarities Between Coaches and Mentors
Both coaches and mentors help improve your performance. Both help you with developing new skills or improving time management. Getting an outsider's view of your circumstances is essential for improvement. Both coaches and mentors can provide this. But, their success is dependent on the actions you take (or avoid).

Differences Between Coaches and Mentors
Coaches are usually hired on an individual basis. Sometimes, they're on staff at larger companies. The coach only focuses on your goals and targets. Since coaching is only for short periods of time, they're outcome-oriented. At work, coaches are often your manager, and have both influence and authority over you. Coaches often work with your agenda, and won’t need a lot of planning to give their feedback.

Coaching always looks forward. We don't spend time on your past experiences, other than to look at specific situations.

A mentor is unpaid and often assigned by an organization to help groom you for the future. Mentors may do their part for several reasons. Some do it for personal development, or to complete a succession plan. Or because you already have a personal relationship with them. Mentors often offer sage wisdom or guidance to help you solve your own issues. Your mentor/mentee relationship could be informal, lasting a lifetime. Choosing a mentor requires pre-planning and determination if personalities are a match.

Both coaches and mentors act as a sounding board.

When to Consider a Coach

  • You need to develop specific skills
  • When the organization wants to develop and promote leaders
  • You need help thinking things through

When to Consider a Mentor

  • When the company wants to develop leaders for succession planning
  • When the company wants to keep its internal expertise and pass on to future leaders

Before choosing a coach or mentor, compare the differences. Both help you improve. But the relationship between coach/coachee and mentor/mentee is very different.

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