Defining the Differences between Mentoring and Coaching

March 21, 2013

If you’re considering implementing a mentoring or coaching initiative in your organization, you probably have questions. Which will best meet your objectives? Which employees will be better suited to mentoring than coaching, and vice-versa? Mentoring and coaching do have several fundamental similarities. Both have a developmental and individual focus. Both are relationship-based and goal-oriented. And both can form the basis of an organization-wide initiative to achieve specific business objectives.

However, there are several fundamental differences between mentoring and coaching, and it’s important for you, your employees, and your organization that you understand the differences before you think about implementation.

Mentoring involves a partnership between an experienced mentor and a mentee who wants to learn from that experience. Mentoring can be understood as the mentor guiding the mentee on a journey, sharing a certain kind of experience that the mentee needs in order to further her or his career. Some important distinctions include:

  1. The mentoring process involves the mentor showing the mentee “the ropes,” with the mentee driving the partnership.
  2. The target audience for mentoring programs is broad, and may include all levels of an organization.
  3. Mentees often select their own mentor, knowing that their mentor has “been to” a place they would also like to go.
  4. Mentoring is not a full time job for most mentors. (However, Insala recommends a Role Profile and baseline training to help mentors understand their roles and what is expected of them.)
  5. Mentors usually belong to the same organization as the mentee.
  6. The costs of mentoring programs are usually lower than coaching programs since the mentor volunteers to support the mentee.

Coaching involves a relationship between a professionally trained coach and a coachee who needs to clarify and accomplish specific career development and performance goals. Coaching can be understood as the coachee receiving specific directions from the coach to a specific place she or he needs to go. Some important distinctions include:

  1. The coaching process involves the coach imparting specific skills or know-how to the coachee.
  2. Coaching programs tend to be targeted to develop leaders or high potentials.
  3. Coaches are usually brought in from outside, are vetted by someone within the organization, and are assigned a few choices of coachees based on what skills the coachees need to develop.
  4. Coaches are professionally trained to be coaches, since coaching is normally their full time job.
  5. Coaches typically do not belong to the same organization as the mentee.
  6. Coaching programs typically cost more than mentoring programs because of the added costs of coaches’ fees.

To put the differences between mentoring and coaching into context, here are some specific uses that we’ve found based on our experience are best targeted through either mentoring or coaching initiatives:


  • Seeking new experiences from others and knowledge sharing
  • Networking



  • Improve working relationships
  • Increase leadership style and influence

    Mentoring AND/OR Coaching

    • Personal career development
    • Skill development (leadership and functional)
    • Support for onboarding



    In some instances, implementing a combined mentoring/coaching program is the best solution for certain organizations to serve the wide variety of developmental needs of each employee. For more information and our best practices for establishing an integrated mentoring/coaching program under a single mentoring software solution, read our article, Mentoring Software for an Integrated Mentoring and Coaching Program.

    Insala is a leading global provider of mentoring, coaching, career development, career transition, and corporate alumni solutions for organizations of all types and sizes. For more information, please visit

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