What is the difference between coaching and mentoring?

Coaching and mentoring - Featured Image

In a previous article, we already established an understanding on the nature of business coaching. Such a solution has evolved over the decades, referring now to a learning solution or process focused on achieving desired and intentional change. Here we assess coaching to another seemingly overlapping concept: mentoring or mentorship. Mentoring also focuses on triggering a positive change in the mindsets of individuals. So, what is then the difference between business coaching and mentorship?

Coaching vs. mentorship - similarities

In literature, the concepts of coaching and mentoring sometimes overlap due to several similarities. Both coaching and mentoring are deployed, in an organizational context, to improve an individual’s skills, knowledge, or workplace performance. Coaching and mentoring play a critical role in early career and business success. Both solutions promote self-reflection or independent thinking to trigger positive results. As a result, much of the learning in a business coaching or mentoring program occurs outside sessions.

According to Across Organizations Mentoring Program (AOMP) , coaching and mentoring share similarities in establishing rapport, enhancing probing and listening skills, and relying on a supportive relationship with the coach or mentor. Also, both the coach and mentor seek to ask the right questions to guide the coachee or mentee toward the optimal solution. At last, business coaching and mentoring share the purpose of promoting greater self-awareness and informed decision-making.  

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Coaching vs. mentorship - differences

The similarities between coaching and mentoring are meaningful, but the differences are profound. Differences between the two solutions were captured in the definition of the International Coaching Federation (ICF). The ICF defined coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential”. Meanwhile, it valued mentoring as an “advising [and] counseling” process.

Directive vs. non-directive

High Speed Training expressed this difference as coaching being non-directive and mentoring being directive. In the non-directive relationship, the coach allows the coachee to do most of the talking and design a unique action plan. In the directive relationship, the mentors do most of the talking and may often tell the mentee what to do. Furthermore, coaches commonly have professional qualifications and abilities to apply their skills across industries. Meanwhile, mentors often lack professional certifications and demonstrate skills limited to a specific market.

Length of process

Another typical difference between coaching and mentoring is in the length of the process. Coaching solutions occur over a shorter period than mentoring solutions. Typically, coaching lasts less than six months. On the other hand, mentoring may span more than a year. Any learning solution that spans a long time risks disqualifying as a coaching solution. Coachees favor business coaching with few, compressed, or condensed coaching sessions when committed to one. 


It is common for mentors to develop a personal relationship with the mentee, one that goes beyond career. Mentorship maintains a holistic view of personal growth, often looking at factors outside work. On the other hand, coaching is more atomistic in its focus. Business coaching, in particular, focuses strictly on individual factors that affect work or career performance. Coaching focuses heavily on goal attainment and targeted development. For this reason, business coaches are commonly executives with a greater focus on results than mentors. In this sense, business coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes, and managing personal change.


By having a targeted focus, coaching relationships develop goals that are clearer than those of a mentorship. In a mentorship, the outcomes are fluid and changeable over time. This fluidity makes assessing effectiveness harder. Meanwhile, in coaching, goals are clear and established beforehand. In this sense, evaluating the impact of a coaching intervention (such as business coaching) is easy and convenient. The outcomes derived from business coaching can express themselves as tangible metrics. Those of mentorship cannot.

Coaching und mentoring - Ähnlichkeiten und Unterschiede.
Coaching and mentoring - Similarities and differences

One-on-one vs. cohorts

Contrary to some opinions, coaching is delivered strictly one-on-one. The one-on-one element is a criterion for successful business coaching formats. On the other hand, mentorship is not exclusively one-on-one. For example, group mentoring involves one mentor dealing with multiple mentees in what resembles a team training program. In the case of business coaching, any absence of the one-on-one element would discredit the whole purpose of the intervention. 

Final thoughts

Business coaching and mentoring are similar in that they aim to help individuals or organizations improve and reach goals. However, there are some profound differences between the two: Coaching tends to be more focused on improving performance and achieving concrete goals, while mentoring is more focused on personal and professional development over the long term. As mentioned earlier, both business coaching and mentoring can be helpful for individuals and organizations that are looking to improve and grow. The specific approach will depend on the needs and goals of individuals or organizations.

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FAQ: Coaching and mentoring

Wer hat mehr Einfluss auf die persönliche Entwicklung, eine Mentorin oder ein Coach?

All things equal, a mentor influences more aspects of an individual’s life without drilling down into any of them. A coach focuses on fewer aspects but dives deeper into ways to improve them. The growth made possible by coaching interventions is far greater than that by mentoring. Thus, a coach has more impact on personal development than a mentor.

Can someone be a mentor and a coach at the same time?

To be a coach requires a higher level of expertise and experience than a mentor. Thus, a mentor cannot be a coach without additional training and experience. A coach can technically also act as a mentor but not simultaneously, as that would confuse the nature of the learning solution and outcomes.

What is the main difference between mentoring and coaching in a business setting?

A business, company, or organization can implement an external coaching solution, to effectively enhance employee performance; they cannot do so with an external mentoring solution due to a lack of understanding among external mentors of organizational functions, dynamics, and executive or HR goals.