Coaching or Mentoring: Which Should I Use?

Lisa Arcemont, Instructor

“Caring about others works because it’s a paradigm focused on people, not things; it’s focused on relationships, not schedules; it’s focused on effectiveness, not efficiency; it’s focused on personal leadership, not resource management.” –Stephen R. Covey

As organizations become more complex, the need to develop knowledge, skills and attitudes that promote personal and professional growth in individuals and grow valuable employees is more important than ever. Two such professional development improvement methods, mentoring and coaching, can serve as vital tools in the growth of organizations and their members. First, these methods promote employee awareness of their present knowledge and skills. Second, they encourage and guide employees to further develop these abilities to better themselves and benefit the organization they serve. For a new employee, having a peer to guide them to avoid mistakes, address concerns, answer questions and provide a sounding board for ideas makes the first few months or years of employment a smoother learning experience and increases the potential for their success. For organizations, facilitation of this orientation process encourages inclusion and the feeling of belonging for the employee. As a result, organizations benefit because employees generally increase their effectiveness at work as well in their personal lives, are more open to managerial supervision, and are less likely to leave the position reducing turnover (Kentucky Cooperative Extension, 2007, February). Therefore, both organizations and their members win.

So, which one to choose – Mentoring or Coaching? Aren’t these the same? Not really. While there are some similarities, many differences separate the two terms and the processes slightly. While the mentoring term surfaced in the late 70’s and early 80’s and coaching seemed to follow with a more recent appearance in the last decade, each process has goals to accomplish (Kentucky Cooperative Extension, 2007, February). The methods to achieve them, though, are vastly different. Let’s compare their characteristics.

• Interaction is usually voluntary.
• Relationship is usually long-term over an extended period of time
• Interaction is generally less structured and conducted in a more casual meeting setting
• Mentor is usually regarded as an expert in their field and serves as a resource to the protégé
• Career development is the overall goal
• Specific areas are developed that the protégé deems necessary for their future development and roles within the organization
• Targets the entire career path of a protégé

• Interaction is usually not voluntary
• Interaction is usually for a set amount of time and not considered long-term
• Interaction is structured and typically utilizes scheduled meetings
• Interaction is generally short-term and focuses on one or two areas of development
• Coach does not necessarily have to be an expert on the coaching topic
• Focus is on a particular developmental issue or job function
• Overall goal is to produce a more immediate change or result and targets specific opportunities for improvement (

So, which one do I use? Well, it really depends what is your final goal of the process for the individual. If your goal is an orientation for a new employee or even an employee with changed job responsibilities within your organization, then mentoring with a knowledgeable mentor(s) guiding and providing direction might be the way to go. If your goal is to change or improve on a specific job responsibility, introduce a new project or process, or provide specific direction or goal setting for a seasoned employee, then the coaching process would allow a more structured setting with specific goals and targets to achieve rather than a general array of topics that might be covered with a new employee.

Another option is very viable and can benefit both the individual and organization depending upon the type of work environment and the overall goal for the employee – blend the two processes to include the characteristics of coaching with mentorship. The process is individualized to the employee in order to achieve the maximum results for both the individual and the organization. Characteristics from both the mentoring and coaching processes are chosen depending on the current work environment, the type of advancement opportunities the employee has, and the time coaches have to give in order to develop the certain employee. There is no right or wrong way to pick and choose or combine characteristics from either process. Organizations may want to blend a more casual approach to meeting with employees focused on training in a targeted area of development, or may choose to blend the relationship-building aspect of the mentoring process into a more planned meeting schedule (

There are many benefits to combining certain characteristics of coaching with mentorship into one process. Increased flexibility, ease of supervision, employees who grow to be autonomous, self-determined and empowered, shared leadership of employee development, and greater satisfaction for both the organization and the employee are a few benefits of the combined model. Most important, blending the two models provides more flexibility in monitoring the process to ensure the employee is on the right path to career development (

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