Mentors vs Coaches

Comparing approaches

Rather than the well-worn path of starting with dictionary definitions or my version of a comparison table, my approach is one of personal reflection. What does it mean to me?

One way I think of the difference is that mentoring is ‘à la carte’ vs coaching’s ‘buffet’ in these respects. Mentoring is more specific to your needs whereas coaching offers everything, from which you choose what you think will work.

Context is important. A mentor is ideally someone who works in your field, or one to which you can relate. As such, having followed that path before, and having received recognition for their accomplishments, they in all likelihood have a more specific idea as to what it takes for you to be successful. A mentor should be able to identify your strengths and affinity for the field and at the same time your weaknesses – and we all have them.

On the other hand a coach does not necessarily need to work in your field. You have probably identified what you need, or your company identifies what is needed. The coach is engaged to improve those areas.

It is more like pull vs push respectively.

One-to-one vs one-to-many

The mentoring relationship is more personal with one-to-one conversations with your history in mind. Coaches tend to teach a group or team for a defined period of time. A mentoring relationship could develop with the coach if a mutual, on-going benefit is perceived and desired. Which brings us to vested interests.

Vested Interests.
In my opinion, a mentor typically has a greater interest in the successful outcome of working with you. Their time is valued more highly than yours, but the return on investment (ROI) is that they will have a successor, a better performing organization or some means to leverage your improvement. A mentor invests their time up front so your early and continued commitment is essential.


On the other hand YOU, or your organization, invests in the coach up front and you hope to achieve your ROI long after the coach has gone. Other than to gain testimonials from a percentage of the class and, one would hope, personal satisfaction from their future success, a coach is not vested in your outcome. They have been paid. Ideally they should want referrals, repeat engagements and potentially some acolytes to embrace their methodology and become a franchised coach for them – but it is a percentage deal, not a personal investment in you.

Valuing time

A coach’s time can be more immediately better paid than a mentor’s time by virtue of the number of paying participants paying for the same hour of time. Which is why the franchising of their coaching or speaking ‘formula’ can be tempting.

The numbers game

Never lose sight of the fact that you are simply part of their numbers game. Your numbers game is to pay for numerous coaching courses, speaker events, online courses, books etc, to find ‘THE ONE’, or the few, to whom you can relate and duplicate to best effect.
Naturally, that does not apply if your mentor is Warren Buffet, Bill Gates or some other extremely well remunerated executive seeking a financially healthy succession.

Chances of success

I believe there is a higher percentage of success with a mentor. Why?

The mentor is more likely to spot the raw ingredients in you that are needed for success. If they propose a mentoring relationship they, in a way, are making a commitment to you before you do to them. Of course you may not realise they are considering you beforehand but, in their wisdom, they are sounding out and observing your potential. This, of course, does not rule out the possibility of you approaching them. Sometimes asking is the most powerful thing you can do.

Yet a mentor can’t, and shouldn’t, do it all.

In the end I think it is probably a combination of mentoring and coaching that works most effectively when coupled with your commitment to help yourself.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.