Coaching or Mentoring – Which Is Best for Me?

When you are a student, it is easy to go to them for guidance.  In your personal life, you probably have older family members that you regard as role models.  When it comes to work, the rules become less clear cut about seeking guidance and following people’s example.  Coaching and Mentoring are two different models that can help you find your way in a new career path.  In this article, we will examine some of the differences between these two systems.

What Does a Coach Do?


A coach is someone who works with an individual for a specific reason, such as to change the individuals work habits, how to perform a specific task, etc.  Therefore, a coachee may have several different coaches for different areas.  For example, you might meet with one coach for work habits and another for life issues.  (If that sounds strange, consider that you might have a personal trainer who works with you on physical fitness and a piano teacher who helps you play the piano.)  In-depth discussions of your long-term career goals are usually not a part of a coaching relationship.

Coaching at a Glance

  • Short-term (may help you prepare for a particular event)
  • Focused on one skill or goal
  • The coachee’s work supervisor is often involved and gives feedback about the results of the coaching


What Does a Mentor Do?


A mentor is a person whose career has taken a similar path to the one the mentee wishes to take.  The mentoring relationship is not based on one particular skill or one particular goal.  Mentors and mentees often talk extensively about subjects not directly related to any particular work task.  For example, they may discuss how to handle interpersonal conflict with colleagues or how to balance the responsibilities of work, raising children, and caring for elderly parents.

Mentoring at a Glance

  • Long-term (a year or more)
  • Focused on professional and personal development in general
  • Does not involve mentee’s manager

The Role of Managers


Until now, this article has dealt only with the relationship between and employee and his or her coach or mentor, but the manager has an important role that is different from the role of the coach or the mentor.  Managers can choose to hire coaches or start a mentoring program at their places of business.  One of the duties of a manager is to help develop the skills of the employees he or she supervises.  No manager, no matter how skilled in time management, can fulfill the role of both manager and coach or the role of both manager and mentor at the same time.  You as a manager can decide, however, whether your employees would benefit more from coaching or from mentoring.  You might even decide that your employees need short-term coaching in certain areas and that they would also benefit from long-term mentoring.  Coaching has improved performance in a certain area as its goal, so you can use it to develop particular skills among your employees.  In that regard, coaching sessions can be similar to training workshops.  Meanwhile, mentoring can improve your workplace culture in ways that coaching cannot.  Preparing the next generation of leaders can only be accomplished through mentoring, not through coaching alone, although coaching can be useful in teaching particular skills to future leaders.

Which One Is Right for Your Workplace?

It all depends on your goals.  The same manager can implement both coaching and mentoring programs at different times or even at the same time with different goals.  It goes without saying that coaching costs money.  Coaches may charge a high rate per hour for group sessions and an even higher rate for individual sessions.  Mentors are likely already to be employees of your company, so you will never need to hire outside mentors in the way that you hire outside coaches.  It is a good idea, however, to offer a financial incentive to your employees to serve as mentors.  Perhaps you can pay them a certain additional amount for every year that they serve as mentors and require that they meet with their mentees at least a certain number of times during that year.  The success of a mentoring program is more difficult to measure, especially in the short term, but employees can benefit from mentoring at least as much as they can from coaching.  You can consider how well an employee responded to coaching in your annual evaluation of that employee, but you cannot do that with mentoring.  Coaching can be good for helping to prepare future leaders in that it can help them develop particular skills, but leaders are more than just the sum of their skills.  Mentoring, like the best kinds of education, has as its primary goal the development of the whole person.