What is the difference between a Coach and a Mentor?

- February 12, 2020 5 MIN READ

My very first experience with a proper business coach is an experience I had completely erased from my memory bank – until recently.  Packing up to move house, I came across a notebook with notes from our meetings. As I read my notes I felt transported back to 2001 and this coaching experience with Jeffrey* and I was reminded of  how much I dreaded those sessions..

It was not a positive experience – at all.

I was studying my Masters in Coaching Psychology and we were each allocated a student coach from the year ahead of us. As my third coaching session with Jeffrey loomed … I honestly would rather have had my fingernails removed one at a time than make or take that coaching call.

We just didn’t gel, didn’t fit, didn’t click, didn’t connect…

It was awful.

And to be 100% honest while I had erased Jeffrey* himself from my memory I have absolutely retained the lesson:

The importance of FIT between coach and coachee.

During my very successful career in the corporate world, I had a number of mentors over the years and experienced first-hand the benefit of such relationships for my career and for myself personally. The fit was right.

Fit isn’t about liking each other, it’s so much more than that. Fit comes from shared values: such as respect, honesty, authenticity. Trust is paramount. And faith that they have your best interest at heart – even if they are tough, in fact, especially when they are tough. Coaches and mentors are supposed to dish out doses of “tough love”.

Do you need to like your coach or mentor?

The next question is: What does like actually mean? Your coach is not your friend. In fact, over the years I have seen some coaches become too close to and too friendly with their clients and lose the perspective to be honest and “shine the light” on behaviours and habits that are not serving their client.

You may have heard the expression “frentor” which is the combination of friend and mentor i.e. frentor! Their role is to take you for a cuppa tea or a glass  of wine when things go badly and listen to your story and maybe give you a hug ….

Your coach’s job is to be empathetic and then get to work with you so that whatever is happening changes, so you change and grow.

Why is it important to find the right mentor or coach?

Quite simply working with the wrong person at the wrong time will cost you in terms of wasted money, wasted effort, wasted energy and most of all wasted time!!  Time today is a limited and precious resource – especially for the small business owner.

You may be surprised that the #1 reason people give for not hiring a coach or a mentor is “I just don’t have enough time”.  They don’t have the time to find the right one, feel they don’t have time for the coaching sessions and certainly don’t have the time to get the work done between sessions.   Money is rarely at the top of the list of reasons for not having a coach.

Not all coaches are created equal

Over the past 20 years the coaching industry has boomed. There are coaches for almost everything. We often hear Tiger Woods or Roger Federer given as examples of having a team of coaches, each focussing on a different aspect of their life.

In some environments the two words Mentor and Coach – are used interchangeably. Rather than describe oneself as a coach some call themselves mentor. It seems clearer in the US where a coach is a coach. Here is Australia the word “coach” is regularly replaced with mentor, and especially when used in the context of business coach.

Here are 6 key differences I have observed over time.

Six key differences between a coach and mentor.

1. Age: A mentor tends to be older, wiser and more experienced than their mentee. In my corporate career my mentors were older than me and significantly more experienced in their field of expertise. As I moved into the world of small business I certainly found mentors of all ages.

A coach can be any age compared to their client.

2. Frequency of contact: Mentoring tends to be intermittent, not especially structured, more informal or perhaps even a one-off interaction. In my own experience some of my mentoring took place anecdotally and through being in the proximity of my mentors, for example at meetings where I was then able to ask questions informally. I was also very fortunate in one particular company, that we had an internal company gym and as an early bird I often spent time side by side on the treadmill with very senior executives who I would never otherwise have had contact with. It was a terrific opportunity for informal mentoring.

Coaching tends to have a formal contact – sessions are weekly, monthly and in a regular pattern. Sessions are for a specific length of time and pre-booked. Most professional business coaches will have a contract to be agreed and signed by both parties

3. Money: Mentoring tends to be a part of what some-one just does. Rarely is there a financial transaction involved between mentor and mentee.

Coaching: One of my friends once said “Coaching is all about the money”. In some cases it would be easy to believe this is true. Most coaches charge money for what they do – that’s their business model.  As a professional coach I believe it’s so much more than “just about the money”. Yes, there is a financial consideration or payment between coach and client. It’s so much more about the value someone receives from the session; value in the form of motivation, relief, inspiration, direction and much more.

4. Experience: A mentor tends to mentor someone in the same industry or profession; the senior lawyer who takes the junior solicitor “under their wing” The Pilates or yoga instructor who mentors a new instructor. In this relationship the mentee seeks specific guidance from someone who knows their industry and helps them with how to do what they do.

A coach: may or may not have specific industry experience. If we are talking about a business coach they will certainly have business experience, knowledge and skills from running their own business and from working with other businesses. They may or may not have industry specific experience

5. A Plan: The conversation with a mentor might be more general in nature when it comes to the plan for the future and more about opportunities.

Working with a coach will almost always involve a plan, that addresses the following: Where do you want to be? Where are you now? And what will it take to get there? Steps, tasks and actions.

6. What happens between sessions?
This is more subtle than the previous differences. With a mentor/ mentee relationship there may not be any formal “actions” or “tasks” to complete between sessions, if in fact there are additional sessions.

With a coach – you would certainly expect actions, tasks, projects, goals as part of the formal coaching sessions.

If you are in business and know you need someone to help you, it is definitely worth considering a mentor and/ or a coach.

Look out for the next article where we will cover the question of how to choose the right coach for you and your business.

*Jeffrey is not his real name – that I have erased from my memory!

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"