Do I need a coach or mentor?


This is a fabulously common conundrum in the professional development space.

You have made the decision that your career is ripe for growth and the land is fertile. You just need to pick your poison.

There are many similarities between the functions that denote a coach/mentor. They are both sourced when someone is aspirational, they are both offering an approach that maximises returns for the aspirant, both help to set and monitor goals and both have to be good listeners to be effective. Doesn’t a spouse already do these things……..urgh no!

Here are some professional differences in the respective approaches.

True Coaching

The coach owns the process, the coachee owns the content. That is to say, the coachee dictates what is covered in the sessions while the wily old coach ensures the session follows a structure that produces returns.

The coach really shouldn’t be interested in the problems or issues of his/her coachee. Detachment from the situation is wholly beneficial for both parties; I predict you are thinking that that statement can’t be correct – am I right?

The key here is that a coach must be impartial – if you wanted a biassed opinion you are better arranging a session with your spouse!

The coaches job is to ask the right questions at the right time. This is where the structure comes in. If done correctly, the coachee will quickly begin to think differently because their preconceptions are challenged. The wisdom of “clean” coaching is that it is completely self-directed – it goes in whichever direction the coachee takes it. What you will get with a coach:

  • impartial and non-judgmental
  • not invested in the outcome of the situation
  • doesn’t need specific industry or job knowledge
  • doesn’t tend to offer advice (if they can help it)
  • not bound to talk only about occupation
  • strict confidentiality agreement


Skills Based Mentoring

Firstly, you have to be careful using the word Mentor. It attaches status to the mentor that those with an ego or reputation (worse still, a reputation for an ego) will refuse to entertain.

A mentor is someone who has specific knowledge of a skill or sector and can accelerate progress. An intra-organisational mentor can ensure that the mentee doesn’t make the same mistakes they did, provide industry advice and help to guide their career. They also build a strong level of trust over time through their shared investment in the cause. An extra-organisational mentor is someone who is sourced from outside the company. They too can build trust but can also provide a greater level of clarity because they have one objective foot outside the door.

The mentor is assisting achievement of an occupational objective only. An example of this would be the England Cricket Team bringing in a fielding expert from a US baseball team or a veteran salesman taking the new high potential under his/her wing. What you will get with a mentor/expert:

  • focus is on a job specific goal
  • insights or opinion
  • not bound as strictly by confidentiality (situation dependent)
  • provides a particular skill or knowledge
  • possibly reports to senior management about progress
  • can be brought in ad-hoc

There are innumerable benefits to both coaching and mentoring. Many people make fine careers from both while concurrently helping to progress the careers of their clients.

In short, whatever your situation, if you have made the decision to seek assistance, you have done the hard part.


Our helpful infographic can further explain the difference.