One fundamental thing that makes apples and oranges resemble each other is the fact that they are both fruits. In the same way, there are some similarities between mentoring and coaching; but they are fundamentally very different too. Sometimes it is hard to know what to choose as a person. It is even harder to distinguish between the two roles you as a leader might have to play and when. Mira who has been consulting for decades and Ruchi who has been mentoring for more than a decade joined hands and try to throw some lights on the similarities and dissimilarities between mentoring and coaching! Are you game to know more? Let’s go!

It is important to set a goal in mentoring as well as in coaching. Without a goal neither of these would be effective. In the case of mentoring, both parties (mentee & mentor) decide jointly on the goal. Most often the goal is relatively well defined e.g. the mentee needs to improve a certain skill, and the mentor has some experience in achieving that goal or has an idea of the process through his/her network. Whereas in coaching, the coach asks questions and helps the coachee to define the goal. The goal might not be clear at the beginning. It could be very vague such as “what should I do as the next step in my career?”

In mentoring, the mentor should have the required skills and experience in order to tell what to do next. Or suggest options. The mentor is most likely a person who is a bit experienced (but not necessarily older) than the mentee and makes assumptions based on his/her own experience. However, in coaching, the coach can come from any random field still with a lot of experience, but he/she asks relevant questions and lead the coachee to define his/her own ways. If the mentor uses his or her own experience to give advice, the coach is educated and certified in asking powerful questions omitting personal thoughts and beliefs.

Coaching has been a very well-established professional framework set up, governed by ICF and such firms. This framework trains and certifies coaches according to a thoroughly tested and approved program. However, in mentoring this framework is more or less missing. Every person decides the way in which they would like to mentor others. This is also a challenge because there is no guidance to become a mentor. People learn on the job, being mentored themselves and then become mentors. This sometimes makes it difficult to start mentoring the first time.

While coaching is a time-bound activity over six months to a year with regular, planned meetings, mentoring can be going on for a longer time. The coach follows up on set goals and inspires the coachee to reach the goal and to set new goals. Mentoring is most often called for when someone needs immediate advice or when someone needs a person with long experience from the same field to ask questions (and get useful answers).

In both mentoring and coaching, both sides need to be willing to grow. However, in mentoring there is more willingness needed since a mentor is not mentoring as a profession. You don’t get paid to be a mentor. What you earn as a mentor is maybe a validation of your experience, the growth of a new person and some word of mouth. Even though a coach gets paid, he/she cares for the coachee to grow by listening actively and ask powerful questions assisting the individual reaching the desired goal.

Mostly the relationship with the coach is temporary due to format and structure however the relationship becomes even stronger with mentors. It is not meant that the coachee should get to know the coach on a personal level and they should not remain friends. This is strictly a professional relationship. The relationship between the mentor and mentee could become more personal and most often the mentor was first found in the mentee’s network.

Coaching can be a career option, but mentoring is not yet a career option. Mentoring is usually an inbuilt activity and not a separate job. Did this text give you some insights on what you might be looking for – a coach or a mentor? In short, mentoring can be the way to go when you are looking for advice on a certain topic you have identified. Coaching, on the other hand, can be used when you want to find the option yourself. Typically, when you are confused and want to know which path you should take, go for mentoring. And if you don’t know where to start, then coaching could be useful.

Good luck😀

Ruchi Verma, Head of Sales Readiness, Ericsson Mira Klintrot, Senior Consultant, Move Management