A coach or a mentor?

I suspect that each of us can fondly remember our best coaches and mentors.

Why? Because they have shaped our lives and influenced the development of our personalities.

We may not have recognised that at the time, but it is easy to look back and recollect them in hindsight.

But are coaches and mentors the same thing?

Although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, mentoring and coaching are two very different experiences.

The expected result of both coaching and mentoring is success and personal growth. However, each takes a different path toward the ultimate goal.

The benefits of having a mentor

Sharing is something we are usually taught as children. Sharing our toys and our sweets are often our first lessons in sharing. Research suggests that most people are not selfish when it comes to the proliferation of knowledge; we are genuinely happy to share.

That’s exactly what a mentor does. 

A mentor shares. A mentor taps into their own experiences, often with a personal, emotional stake in your outcomes and is biased in your favour. 

Your mentor walks alongside you and provides support when you need it. 

Mentoring does not usually produce short-term results; rather it lays the groundwork and plants the seeds of growth.

Allan Jagger OBE & Michelle Hanton OAM
Allan Jagger OBE – a wonderful mentor – and myself

Mentoring is a lasting arrangement that shapes much more than your career. It validates you as a person because a mentor’s job is to nurture and help you discover and develop yourself.

You can draw strength from a mentoring relationship, and many of us have a wide range of formal and informal mentors in our lifetimes.

A mentor’s influence will always depend on the strength of your relationship.

Given that human interactions and emotions are unpredictable, the volatility of this arrangement is a double-edged sword. A disagreement can destroy your professional gains, given that the entire structure is built on admiration.

Mentoring can be done at a conscious or unconscious level. It’s often a profound, long-lasting experience that is mutually beneficial for both parties.

The benefits of having a coach

On the flip side of the coin, we have coaches. 

In contrast to the warm, nurturing mentor, a coach is there doing a job; just like a sports coach, to bring about the result you desire.

You could say coaches represent the boot camp of life; you may not like it, but they can teach you skills that can turn your life around fairly quickly. Affection and respect are optional.

Coaches must be pragmatic, performance-driven and logical. They must shun the broader, long-term approach of mentoring.

Coaching is a business relationship.  Money changes hands, and a result is expected. It’s usually a formula approach to self-improvement, with more predictable, consistent results.

The growth of coaching as a profession has brought forth some less than ethical “coaches”— experts in taking your money and not delivering. The stories I’ve heard from unsuspecting individuals who’ve been fleeced make my blood boil. Doing your due diligence before deciding to engage a coach is essential.

A coach is a person to call if you need a performance boost, short-term results or some tough love.

A mentor is more of a life guide, with a genuine interest in each person they choose to mentor as there is often no financial exchange taking place. There are definite benefits for both parties, generally personal satisfaction and the pay-it-forward level of making the world better.

In my opinion, you can be a coach without caring (although good coaches always care!), but you can never be a mentor unless you do care.

In addition, the results of mentoring are less consistent than when working with a dedicated coach. That said, mentoring relationships tend to be more fulfilling and often turn into lasting friendships.

I am not a coach. I’m a business strategist and a mentor that get results. My speciality is helping you with strategic planning. This gives you crystal clear clarity to achieving your goals.

What are your experiences of working with mentors and coaches?


NOTE: post was originally published in 2015 and updated on 3 February 2021


2 thoughts on “A coach or a mentor?

  1. Michelle, I am currently mentoring a younger woman and have found it very rewarding. She asked me over a year ago to mentor her and we’ve been meeting regularly since then. You’re right about the care a mentor must have for her mentee. Thanks for highlighting the difference between mentoring and coaching.

    Liked by 1 person

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