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Coach or Mentor — What’s the Difference?

The words “coach” and “mentor” are often used as synonyms, however they do not mean the same thing. If you’re considering hiring someone to help you create the life you want or improve professional performance, it helps to know the differences. Then you can decide who would best work for you.

Definitions
Typically, 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 from a typical coach in that I work with you to determine 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 significantly 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, such as developing new skills or improving time management. Getting an objective view of your personal or professional life is essential for improvement. Both coaches and mentors can provide this. However, their success is fully dependent on the actions you take (or avoid).

Differences Between Coaches and Mentors
Coaches are usually hired individually, or on staff at larger companies. The coach is focused specifically on your goals and targets. Since they are hired or provided for a limited period of time, they are outcome-oriented. At work, coaches are often your manager, and have both influence and authority over you. Coaches often work with your agenda, and it won’t require a lot of planning to implement their feedback.

My philosophy of coaching is that, in the end, most issues and challenges you face come back to or are rooted in your personal experiences. Even if we start our coaching relationship working on a business issue, we will eventually be talking about your life and past personal experiences that led to this issue. When you work with me, you get to the root causes of your behaviors, which impacts your business and personal life.

A mentor is unpaid and often assigned by an organization to help groom you for the future. Mentors may do their part for their own personal development, 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, and your 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 retain and keep its internal expertise and pass on to future leaders

Before choosing a coach or mentor, compare the differences. While both are determined to help you improve, the nature of the relationship is very different.

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