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What is the Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching?

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What is the Difference Between Mentoring and Coaching?

Within organizational contexts, the terms mentoring and coaching are sometimes used interchangeably. In fact, while mentors and coaches may employ similar skills, their roles are distinct. What differentiates mentoring and coaching? In this interview, Professor David Clutterbuck of Coaching and Mentoring International and Paul Anwandter, Director of Chile-based Inpact S. A., discuss the differences.


Paul Anwandter: Good afternoon. Today is April 29th. I have the pleasure to be here with Professor Clutterbuck. So welcome to Chile, David.

David Clutterbuck: Thank you.

PA: Today, I would like to tell you that we are very, very happy receiving you in Santiago de Chile at the Academia Inpact. And for us it has been a pleasure to know and learn from you about mentoring. And my first question to our students is, “What is the real difference between mentoring and coaching?”

DC: When we look at mentoring and coaching as they’re used popularly, they tend to be often interchanged, but both of them come from a long history of helping people to learn, and the primary difference appears to be mainly one of context … That mentors and coaches need similar skills, but sometimes mentors need some additional skills relating to the use of their knowledge, and mentors tend to have context-specific knowledge, but they also have to have the skills not to let that interfere with how they help somebody else. So it’s a delicate balance, but essentially, coaching and mentoring have grown up in parallel, although mentoring has been around as an approach—a discipline, if you like—for several thousand years.

PA: Right, right. And we have learned today that in your model, mentoring is considered above coaching. What is the idea of that?

DC: John Leary Joyce, a good friend from England, describes mentoring as “coaching plus.” So when somebody has the skills of coaching, they listen; they ask good questions; they are very client-centered; they’re non-directive. And really good mentors are exactly the same, but they bring this experience of the context, the world in which that other person is working or growing up. And so they are able to help that person access more freely their inner world, and the outer context; the outer world around them, and to have the dialogue that helps them think about “Who do I want to become, and how do I want to become?” And I think that’s a very powerful conversation, and it’s a longer-term conversation than “What do I want to achieve?”

PA: That’s right. And if an organization would like to have mentoring inside, what would be the benefit of it?

DC: One of the things that we see is that when people have a mentor from with inside the company, they are much, much less likely to leave, and so there is immediate benefit in the retention of talent, and of course every company is fighting to keep its talent. So this could be as little as a third—there’s always at least one-third improvement in the retention of people who have a mentor versus those who don’t, but in some cases it’s several hundred percent better because of the fact that people feel valued, and they’re able to understand the potential within the organization.

PA: That sounds very interesting. And also, you told us today about the difference between the sponsorship mentoring and the developmental mentoring. What of those differences?

DC: Sponsorship mentoring is something that comes primarily from the United States, and it’s an interpretation of the story of mentor—or really, the real mentor, who was Athena, the goddess of wisdom. But in sponsorship mentoring, it’s looking at Athena as the protectress, and somebody who had a cloak of invisibility she spread over people to protect them. Whereas in Europe, a different model evolved, and this was based on the primary role of Athena, which was helping people—the people she was working with—to develop wisdom. So we describe a developmental mentor as using their wisdom to help somebody else grow wisdom of their own. So it’s much less instrumental. Sponsorship mentors tend to do things for you; developmental mentors help you to work things out. think things through, and do things for yourself.

PA: Uh huh. I had a session with you today, and it was a wonderful session. And what I faceted this time, it was that your question … They were very, very, very good.

DC: Thank you.

PA: Yeah, and not just moving on to the next step question. So those questions put me in a very deep reflection. How do you do that?

DC: I wish I knew! There is a sense of wanting to help you understand what you know, and then where just necessary, to give you a little bit more information that might help you think about things that you hadn’t thought of before. And so we were able to share a little bit of my experience, just a tiny piece. And for me to be able to say, “Is that relevant?” to you. And your answer immediate—firstly—was, “No, no. It’s not relevant.” And then after about two minutes, it was, “Oh yes, it is.” And I think this is part of what the process—mentors really hold back on their experience, but then they offer something as a little gift and say, “Would you like some?” and you can say yes or no. But basically it’s a very soft giving, rather than “Now, this is what you should do,” which is not part of mentoring at all.

PA: That’s right, and I felt at that very moment also that sharing your knowledge was wonderful. That—we don’t do that in coaching. Is that normal?

DC: Yes, it is, and the key skill is not to rush into sharing knowledge, and not to give too much.

PA: That’s right. It was the perfect—how do you say?—portion of information, because you were not just talking and talking and talking about your experience. It was like a pill that you gave me that time. And if you consider it, we have a lot of students, coaches, and what would be the benefit for them to become mentors?

DC: Well, one of the things that many coaches find as they become more experienced is that they are drawn into doing a little bit of mentoring as well.

PA: Okay.

DC: And they often feel guilty about it. And they try and avoid giving any: “I cannot give any advice; I cannot give any information.”

PA: Uh huh.

DC: But this enables you, gives you the skill to be able to say, “Right, at this point, I have something that my client needs.” And so having that skill to give the client what they need at that point, I think, is a real benefit.

PA: Okay.

DC: So we’ve been running a number of programs, coach-to-mentor transition.

PA: Sounds great, sounds great.

DC: And it’s simply about adding some skills to the natural skills that you have as a coach.

PA: And what about the organizations? Do they have to have coaches during this transition, or they can have managers doing mentoring for themselves?

DC: We find that what really works in an organization is to have a mixture of coaching and mentoring of all sorts. And so you could have line managers who are coaches; you could have trained coaches who are not in the line, but tend to have a much higher level of training, for example—that’s very common. And then you have mentors. And so very often we find the people, the line managers who are afraid to take on coaching, to do coaching—if they become a mentor first, and they can practice these developmental behaviors and this questioning style on somebody who doesn’t report to them, then they gain confidence. And that’s when we can turn them, or help them to become more effective line manager coaches.

PA: That sounds really great. Well, thank you for this interview, for your visit, for your learnings, teachings that you have been giving to us. It has been really an honor and a great pleasure.

DC: It’s been a great adventure for me.

PA: Thank you, thank you very much. Hope to see you soon again in our country.

DC: You bet.

PA: Thank you!