Coaching vs. Mentoring

Organizations need both; here are subtle differences to keep in mind

Coaching vs. Mentoring

Coach, mentor, supervisor, manager, boss: Leaders within a company can be referenced many different ways. When you closely examine a company’s organizational structure and peel back the different layers of job titles and descriptions, you’ll find that each layer holds a different weight or level of importance.

Two of the most often forgotten titles—coach and mentor—aren’t official titles within a company’s organizational chart, but they are important to the growth of an organization, as they directly affect the future of the employees.

Coaches and mentors are two terms that are used to describe leaders, but are often misconstrued, causing confusion on management styles. As we examine the definition of each one, we can explore their similarities and differences.


When we think of a coach, we immediately think of a sports team. Look at some of the best coaches in sports; they are some of the most brilliant and strategic professionals in their line of work.

For example, Bill Belichick—head coach of the New England Patriots—is often touted as one of the best football coaches of all time. During the 2016 football season, coach Belichick was able to overcome the obstacle of having three different starting quarterbacks in the first three weeks by preparing, providing, and executing on effective instruction. With quality instruction, Belichick was able to coach his team to a respectable 3 and 1 start, all without his star quarterback.

While coaching requires skills similar to mentoring, the main difference between the two is how you utilize the skills to make a difference within your operation.


One of the most effective coaching techniques is learning about each employee on a personal level. Often times as a company grows, leaders lose that personal connection with their employees, which removes any ability to be empathetic toward employee needs. Coaches are notorious for setting goals for individuals in an attempt to raise their overall teams to the next level.


Another skill that a coach will need besides empathy and goal setting is the ability to delegate responsibilities. If you look at any team in professional sports, you will notice that each member of the team has a very specific role. It is the function of the coach to delegate responsibilities to players who perform particular tasks at the optimum level.

Finding Solutions

Just like Belichick, great coaches are focused on finding solutions to problems. A great coach will recognize any problem as an opportunity to adjust and empower his/her team to succeed.


Communication plays a role in both coaching and mentoring; however, in coaching, without proper communication, your entire plan can fall apart. Not only is communication important for guiding the team to victory, it is equally as important to provide constant feedback to the team, regarding their progress. Lack of communication and exclusion can be demotivating to the best of employees.


A mentor is known as a wise, educated, and trusted counselor. To an employee, a great mentor can often be more important than a great coach.

Looking at the role of a mentor, it seems similar to a coach, but the mentor is actually more similar to a consultant. A mentor is someone who often provides lifelong experience and knowledge as suggestions to potential career growth for an employee.

Building Trust

Mentors are often a volunteer-based role, and are viewed as someone with integrity, trust, and loyalty. Mentoring must remain a transparent process without smoke and mirrors. With this being said, a mentor must have a complete resume that confirms his/her achievements surrounding the topics on which they provide guidance.

Becoming a mentor does not happen immediately. Years of experience with both successes and failures help develop the ability to provide advice. You must also create a level of trust as a mentor, enabling the conversations to be full of rich information. A mentor and mentee must never be afraid of sharing trusted information with one another.

Problem Solving

The most notable difference between a mentor and coach is that a mentor typically will not solve the problems for employees like a coach. Mentors will be able to provide advice on a specific pathway of success surrounding the career goals of an employee.

In an article she wrote, financial advisor Suze Orman said, “The key to being a good mentor is to help people become more of who they already are—not to make them more like you.”

What Orman is trying to say is quite simple: As a mentor, you need to help people get out of their own way. Being a mentor is all about guiding an employee to see his/her true value and watch his/her dreams become a reality.

Provide Perspective

While mentors provide advice and suggestions, they often help employees look at a situation from a different perspective. Using personal experiences, mentors can provide tips on what might have helped them overcome similar obstacles. Again, a mentor doesn’t provide the solution to the situation; rather, the mentee utilizes tips from the mentor to create their own solution.

The Ultimate Difference

A very valuable question comes to mind when we dissect the differences between coaching and mentoring: Can a coach also be a mentor to an employee? The simple answer is yes. However, even so, the art of dominating both coaching and mentoring is difficult and few have been able to provide both traits to their teams.

Are you a mentor, coach, or both? Take a look at some of the key traits for each definition and determine what you can do to grow. It is your goal to unleash all of the potential that your team has through coaching and mentoring. Using both methods will enable your team, and ultimately, your entire operation to succeed.


Posted On December 9, 2016

Brant Insero

Brant Insero is ISSA’s senior director of Education, Training, Certification & Standards. With more than 15 years of professional training experience, he has instructed industry professionals within commercial cleaning, supply chain, telecommunications, retail, and financial vertical markets. For more information, visit

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