Is it a Coach or a Mentor I need?

Our tips for deciding between coaching and mentoring

Who is this article for?

  • Business executives, leaders and managers who wish to undertake coaching or mentoring
  • HR professionals looking to implement coaching or mentoring to enhance performance

There is a lot of debate about the differences between coaching and mentoring, and which approach is better in what circumstances. Both mentoring and coaching are similar in that they are about personal learning and development. The basic skills required by the mentor or coach are also similar, such as rapport building, listening and questioning, challenging and giving feedback.

In practice, mentoring tends to be more guiding and advisory than coaching and in this regard, mentoring is considered a slightly more directive (PUSH) style of intervention. Whilst a mentor might coach during the mentoring process, a coach will rarely mentor during the coaching process, as coaching is most effective as a non-directive (PULL) style of intervention.

So how do you decide whether you need a mentor or a coach?

If you want to focus on the content of your day to day work and:

  • achieve specific measurable results in a time frame of less than 6/8 months
  • improve your work performance in a particular area
  • develop specific skills or adopt new, more effective behaviours to get better results
  • have a specific workplace problem, relationship or issue that is causing you to be less effective than you would be otherwise
  • change your attitude or mental frame to be more positive and effective in specific workplace situations or circumstances
  • be effective while going through a short-term transition such as organisational change, job relocation, promotion etc

... then coaching is probably your best option. Expect to be working with them as your coach for a period of 4-8 months, meeting every 3/4 weeks or so.

If you want to focus on the broader context of your working life and:

  • learn more about the organisation you have just/recently joined (culture/systems/unwritten rules/politics etc)
  • focus on your longer term personal and professional development in the organisation
  • review your career options and choices over the next 12/18 months
  • seek promotion or have been promoted and want to ensure your style, approach etc meets expectations at this new level
  • re-invigorate your personal sense of purpose and motivation at work

... then mentoring is probably your best option. Expect to be working with them as your mentor for a period of 12-18 months, meeting every 6-8 weeks or so.

Whether you are choosing a mentor or a coach, you will be expected to be committed to the process and to make the most of the opportunity that coaching or mentoring presents, as your coach/mentor will be committed to your success. In either case, you can expect to be challenged, stretched (in terms of your thinking and capability) and will develop a deeper sense of self awareness and personal drive.

Choosing a coach or mentor

A good rapport is essential between you and your coach or mentor. If possible, always meet your proposed mentor or coach face-to-face before confirming whether they are your choice, and preferably meet at least two alternatives. You will be working with this person for an extended period of time with the intention of gaining specific and significant benefits for yourself, so it is important that you respect and trust them, and can work with them in a collaborative, professional and open manner.

If you are looking for a coach, then you might want to know about their coaching qualifications and experience, their style of coaching, logistics, and how they will contract with you and your sponsor. You should have some prior idea of the specific outcomes and success criteria you and your sponsor are hoping to see as a result of the coaching so you can discuss these in outline with your coach.

If you are looking for a mentor, then you might want to know about their experience in the organisation, their wider experience in the industry or sector, logistics, and how they will contract with you and your sponsor. You should have some prior idea of what success might look like for you as a result of the mentoring so you can discuss these in outline with your mentor.

Further relevant articles and programmes:

What is my role as a coachee?

Mentee Skills

Coachee Readiness

coaching process for coachee