There are fundamental differences between mentoring and coaching in their purest terms.  Often the two get confused.  Let’s explain the differences and how they can be applied separately and combined to support others, colleagues, students and sometimes, our friends.

Depending on the situation someone may need a mentor.  For example, a new colleague will need guidance on” the way things are done around here”.  How do you complete certain forms or claim for travel or where the tea and coffee is.  Mainly, non-contentious issues.

In other situations, a coach might be required. Coaching is about personal development and growth of an individual personally or professionally.  A coach will support a person looking at options they might follow.  Its aim is to help someone clarify a situation that they are trying to resolve.

Trust and confidence are vital characteristics required to maintain both above relationships.

The Leadership Toolbox team can advise you on the best support we can offer you and/or you can support others..  Through a face to face needs assessment we will sign post you in the best direction for your context.

Some support can be short term; some may be on going.

Mentoring is a system of semi-structured guidance whereby one person shares their knowledge, skills and experience to assist others to progress in their own lives and careers. Mentors need to be readily accessible and prepared to offer help as the need arises – within agreed bounds

‘…is a structured, sustained process for supporting professional learners through significant career transitions..’
Centre for the Use of Research and Evidence in Education (CUREE)

It is also a ‘…supportive learning relationship between a caring individual who shares knowledge, experience and wisdom with another individual who is ready and willing to benefit from this exchange, to enrich their professional journey.’

‘An intense work relationship between senior and junior organisational members. The mentor has experience and power in the organisation, and personally advises, counsels, and promotes the career development of the protégé.’

There can be a power difference between the mentor and mentee.

A mentor will:-

  1. share their skills, knowledge, and expertise
  2. demonstrate a positive attitude and acts as a positive role model
  3. provides guidance and constructive feedback
  4. respected by colleagues and employees in all levels of the organization
  5. set and meet ongoing personal and professional goals
  6. motivate others by setting a good example

Mentoring can be formal or ad hoc when required; it can be individually or in groups.


Coaching is a process that aims to improve performance and focuses on the ‘here and now’ rather than on the distant past or future.

Good coaches believe that the individual always has the answer to their own problems but understands that they may need help to find the answer.

‘…is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.’

Timothy Gallwey, The Inner Game of Work

‘…is the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another”.

Myles Downey  Effective Coaching

A coach will;-

  1. be non-directive
  2. be non-judgemental
  3. be person-centred
  4. ensure an individual is responsibility for their action
  5. ensure an investment in their growth
  6. focuses on the present/future

Usually coaching is arranged at regular intervals for a set time.  You have a protected time and location for your coaching session.

Group coaching can also be arranged but meets different needs.

What is the basic difference between mentoring and coaching?

Mentoring – The sage on the stage

‘The basic model of mentoring is that one person passes on their greater knowledge and wisdom to another.”

Hay (1995)

Coaching – The guide at your side

“It`s about enabling individuals to make conscious decisions and empowering them to become leaders in their own lives”
Karen Wise

In practice, a coach may begin the session as a coach but might feel they need to switch to a mentor as the coaching relationship is not functioning at a moment in time.  This can happen for a short period and then revert to coaching.  A skilled practitioner can manage this transition using their professional judgement.  In the back of their mind is the purpose of the relationship and possible time scales.


This is an important addition to our toolbox of mechanisms to support colleagues and ourselves.

Supervision – Group or individual Non-Managerial Supervision.

Supervision is a process of being linked to fellow practitioners which gives rise to learning through sharing and allows the members of the group to gain knowledge, skills, experience and support.

It also enables them to enter a particular ‘community of practice’. By spending time with fellow practitioners, by ‘looking over each other’ shoulders’, taking part in discussions about the routines and practices and exploring our work, we become full members of this shared community of practice; the supervision group.

This is very much a case study centred approach.

This can be a one on one relationship similar to above where a colleague meets with a trained more experience colleague within their professional field.

It is not a support group for failing colleagues – quite the reverse it is an opportunity to further improve as a professional.

‘Supervision enhances ‘seeing’ – the seeing into one’s practice, the illumination of subtle processes in coaching conversations and of blind spots in oneself and in one’s thinking. Super-vision is then something that I, the coach, take away with me – an enhanced view, a super-vision of my practice.’

‘Coaching Supervision is the interaction that occurs when a coach periodically brings his or her coaching work experiences to a coaching supervisor in order to engage in reflective dialogue and collaborative learning for the development and benefit of the coach and his or her clients.’

Coaching and supervision are:-

  1. Learning
  2. Professional development
  3. Challenging
  4. Related to your needs and desires


Mentoring is:-

  1. Maintenance
  2. Directional
  3. Compliance
  4. Related to the organisations needs

The Leadership Toolbox team
can provide you with:-

  • training to become a mentor.
  • support to apply a coaching approach to your leadership
  • a mentor, coach or supervisor to help you thrive in your work and life.

Related topics you will find in the Leadership Toolbox are:-

  • Models of leadership
  • Trust
  • Teamwork
  • Challenging conversations