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It’s easy to be confused about the differences between coaching and mentoring. As both these terms refer to one-to-one supportive knowledge sharing and learning, typically where a less experienced individual benefits from the insights of a more senior person.

However, there are important differences between the two disciplines and while one might suit you at a particular point in your career, the other may well not. To find out more, we need to define both terms and then examine the similarities and differences.

What is Coaching?

Coaching at work is essential to develop staff into new roles or enhance the skills they already have, without informal coaching in the workplace staff wouldn’t have access to the skills to develop and improve, when I state informal, I mean that they are being coached by a line manager or in some cases a colleague, daily to ensure they are improving on the job and that could be from picking and packing orders to running some expensive plant and equipment, the aims are the same, coaching aims to produce optimal performance and improvement at work. It focuses on specific skills and goals and may also have an impact on an individual’s personal attributes such as social interaction or confidence. The process typically lasts for a defined period.

In some examples it’s about the development of staff in to a new role that they have some knowledge and understanding of, for example, someone who works in an internal sales role targeting customers over the phone with spend criteria that is between £5K-£10K, they have built up knowledge of a sales process and how to win business but they receive a promotion to an external business development role and this job is about meeting customers face to face, gaining appointments through cold calling, writing and delivering presentations etc, which need a different range of skills and knowledge and it would be the responsibility of the Sales manager to coach this person to give them the skills, understanding and techniques required to win business and be a success and therefore it is a crucial role of the Sales Manager to have the skills to coach, in fact coaching skills are the most important attribute of a sale leader according to Mike Weinberg in his book Sales Management Simplified and like in sports, daily/weekly coaching from the sales manager will be ongoing, getting out in the field with the sales people, going on joint meetings and finishing the day with a wrap up, reviewing the performance of the sales person, the manager will offer advice and go through scenarios to demonstrate how the they could do better and achieve a better outcome, along with spending time going through some key skills that the sales person will need to be coached on, the sales process, sales methodology, gaining commitment, listening and questioning skills etc.

Coaching at any level of business is a management skill, coaching is the art of facilitating the development, learning and the enhanced performance of another.

Examples of the deployment of a coach

When to Use a Coach

1. Enhance the experienced professional with a new or refreshed skill.

2. Help individuals who are not meeting expectations or goals.

3. Assist leaders in coping with large-scale change through a merger or acquisition, like managing new “blended” work teams and adapting to the merging of company cultures.

4. Prepare a professional for advancement in the organisation.

5. Improve behaviour in a short period of time, like coaching an executive to address the media on a specific topic.

6. Work one-on-one with leaders who prefer working with a coach rather than attending “public” training programs.

What is Mentoring?

The mentor role is an opportunity for a less experienced or knowledgeable person who takes advantage of the experience knowledge and skill of another person and its easy to imagine that this person would be older and thought of as an elder statesman and that is true in senior executive role due to the career journey of executives, age does define the type of person able to coach/mentor someone in that position but in general across a business in area’s of production, finance, sales etc, being older than a mentee by one or more generations, is now less clear attribute of a mentor than experience, awareness or skill, age doesn’t assure wisdom nor does youth always indicate a lack of it.

Mentors provide mentee with access to advice and knowledge they can tap in to, Mentoring is concerned with the longer-term acquisition of skills in developing a career by a form of advising and counselling.

A mentors role Is a more experienced individual willing to share their knowledge with someone less experienced in relationship of mutual trust . A mixture of parent and peer, the mentor primary function is to be a transformational figure in an individuals development.

Two key differences between the approach of coaching and mentoring.

• Coaching is performance driven and aims to give new skills or fresh insight to the coachee, so that the individual can improve his/her performance on the job.

• Coaching is directly concerned with the immediate improvement of performance and development of skills by a form of tutoring or instruction.

• Mentoring is relationship based and seeks to provide a safe environment for professional development for the Mentee, where they can share whatever, critical issues effect his or her professional success. Although specific learning goals or competencies may be used as a basis for creating relationships, mentors focus goes beyond the areas to include work life balance, self-confidence, self-perception and how personal influences the professional. Content expertise isn’t as critical for the mentor since he or she plays the role of facilitator rather than coach.

In my business experience I have witnessed and provided both Coaching and mentoring to employees usually in a very informal manner.

But the question is often asked what the difference between Coaching and mentoring and when and where are they to be used.

Similarities between coaching and mentoring


More specifically, both are:

• focused on the individual.

• Relationship based

• highly interactive

• ongoing (not a one-time meeting)

• goal oriented for the coachee/mentee

• organizationally are strategically aligned

Two key similarities

1. Focused on the individual.

Both Coaching and mentoring whilst have a different role and a very different approach, the focus of both is always on the improvement of the individual, helping them improve knowledge and grow professionally and personally is the focus and desired outcome of both.

To do both well, its effectiveness will depend on, in large measure on the managers beliefs around human potential, we must think of the people (the coachee/mentee) in terms of their potential not there performance.

2. Ongoing (not a one-off meeting)

Whilst coaching and mentoring require a different approach and delivery is quite different, the key to success is to allow the mentee absorb the information and reflect at their own pace and whilst coaching maybe more specific and be about skill and knowledge transfer, this will not happen quickly and will be a process that will happen over a period of time that allows for the coach to challenge, reflect and the mentee to absorb, reflect and challenge and this cant be restricted by timelines, this is the same with mentoring, working at the pace of the mentee, the engagement and enthusiasm of the mentee will drive the time line of the mentoring process, it a relationship that evolves and develops and is controlled by the mentee and so there is no start and end, its related to the mentees experience and learning.

Implementing either formal coaching and/or mentoring programs have a significant impact on a business, taking the time to designing and implementing both is crucial for the growth and development of your staff and business.

Adam Noble

Adam’s career spans over 35 years of sales, sales leadership and senior leadership roles at a regional and national level as Sales Director, Managing Director, Commercial Director and CEO in market-leading businesses with annual sales ranging from £10m to over £150m.

Adam has a Master’s in Business Administration (MBA), is ILM Level 5 qualified in coaching and mentoring, and CMI Level 7 qualified in strategic management and leadership.

To find out more about one-to-one mentoring services or how to create a mentoring programme for your business, contact Adam at or visit for more information.

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