Mentoring and coaching are similar in that they involve receiving help and guidance from someone, but they are also very different. Mentoring is typically someone who has expertise and experience in an area in which we currently work. Their insights can give us a clear direction on what to consider and what to expect as it relates to our career progression. In most cases, mentors are within the mentees’ company, and can help them navigate that specific social environment. Coaching is different in that coaches need not have expertise or experience in the coachees’ work domain or even have familiarity with the nuances of their political work environment. Instead, coaches’ training is grounded in psychology and adult development, with the goal of helping—through carefully curated questions and thoughtful inquiry—the coachee find the correct answer themselves. The objective is increasing coachees’ self-awareness, regardless of where that might take them Mentors are people we look up to and aspire to be like because they have the know-how that we desperately seek. But in most cases, they are limited in that they don’t necessarily have the time or incentive to help mentees question whether they’re on the right path in the first place.
Coaches typically don’t have any formal ties to the organization. Their incentive is to help the coachee figure out what’s best for them. So, while mentors are important players in one’s career development, coaches are important partners in one’s work-life interface.
We need coaches just as much as we need mentors. And I’d even go so far as to say that managers are realizing they can garner more long-term trust with their subordinates when they act as coaches.