Mentoring vs Coaching: What’s the Difference? Why You Need Both.
Updated: Jun 24
Mentors dole out wisdom while coaches offer custom-tailored solutions for you. Why you want both for your business.
Mentoring and coaching: They’re different words that mean the same thing to many people. But are they the same? Ask a mentor to step up and take on the role of a coach, and you’ll discover the difference firsthand.
Coaching and mentoring are not interchangeable. A mentor is invited to share personally obtained wisdom and provide guidance or insight. They might not even have expertise in your field. You hire a coach because they can provide specific expertise and create preemptive strategies, give you tools to change, keep you focused and troubleshoot with you as you implement them .
Mentors are a great choice for startup entrepreneurs without the funds for consulting and coaching yet need a seasoned professional to offer broad business advice and connections to help your business grow. They are also the right choice for successful leaders who have ‘a growth mindset’ and are open to learning from people more expert or wiser than them.
Coaches are great when you need to learn some new skills, need objective feedback about your situation and want someone to hold you accountable for your actions, behaviors, goals, etc. Typically, coaches focus on developing specific skills, setting goals, acting as a ‘thinking’ partner to help you through difficult issues and provide tools that can facilitate your scaling up and growth. Coaching is an effective tool for:
Developing leadership and organization skills
Thinking through strategies
Improving your ability to trust and commit to action
Staying on track while you deal with what comes up in the moment
Identifying obstacles that prevent you from reaching your goals
Developing a vision of where you want to get
Making lasting change in the way you work or live
Improving the qualify of your relationships with your teammates
Increasing your focus
Learning about strategy
Increasing your financial literacy
Mentors do not offer these tools as a hands-on approach. In my experience, most owner-operators, family-run, and closely-held businesses with an eye on long-term, sustainable growth benefit more from a coach than a mentor. But, mentors sure can help along the way.
“If you want to teach people a new way of thinking, don't bother trying to teach them. Instead, give them a tool, the use of which will lead to new ways of thinking.” ― R. Buckminster Fuller
How Is Coaching Different?
Coaching is more than consulting. Like consultants, coaches share information and give advice. But, coaches don't do it for you, like consultants. They make requests versus just giving recommendations, like a mentor.
Coaching is different than talking with a friend, peer or mentor. Friends don't generally have the perspective or advanced competencies to develop others. They are good at giving advice. Peers have a vested interest in the political status quo and are unlikely to insist on results (unless you are part of a peer group intended for this purpose). Mentors are likely to give advice and offer no follow up unless you take the initiative. And, then they may or may not be available.
Coaching can be intensely personal, yet it is not therapy. Coaching is about achievement; therapy is about healing. Therapy moves a person from dysfunctional to functional. Coaching moves a business and leader from functional to extraordinary.
Is your business giving you the life you want? How about the fun or the freedom? Have you established a clear purpose for your business? What about core values? Are you crystal clear on who is your core customer? These are tough questions to clarity, and a mentor may not be able to help you with the right answers. A mentor will usually only be able to share their perspectives about how they found them.
A coach should shine light on your dangers (the dark areas), opportunities (hidden areas of profit), and solutions (the Rockefeller Habits). They help you understand the consequences of ways you’re running your business that you might not pay much attention to or even recognize as necessary. A masterful business coach will take the time to help you identify things you do well, as well as areas where you’re under performing and how to address them.
While a mentor may share his or her insights about your performance. A coach will take a deep dive into your results and help you develop an action plan to improve them. The difference gets back to the relationship dynamics of these different roles: You invest in a coach and expect to see results; you befriend a mentor and hope to see improvement.
Different kinds of coaching
Not all coaches are offer the same service or deliver it in the same way and the same goes for mentors. We already know that a coach will take a more proactive approach to working with you, but choosing the right kind of coach and then getting one that will fit you and your team is important because if you choose wisely, you may with that coach for 3 or more years.
First, there are many kinds of coaching. So what are they?
Life coaches: This coach typically focuses on family, finances, personal relationships, personal performance, and goals. While a therapist tends to work on what’s happened in the past, a life coach will keep you pointed on what’s ahead of you. That may not seem important to your business, but many successful business leaders rely on life coaches to help find clarity of purpose and tap into the right motivations for them to succeed.
Executive coaches: This type of coach focuses on leadership and team development. They help you develop specific skills, such as strategic planning and thinking, time-management, problem-solving, and delegation. The goal is to help you develop the skills to advance up the executive career path, elevating your personal and professional performance to meet company expectations.
Business coaches: These coaches combine the best aspects of the coaches above and apply them to the business owner. Then they add specific coaching on the practical functions that go on within your business. This includes operations, sales, marketing, managing finances, building teams, and hiring and recruiting the right people. It’s a blend of executive and life coaching that hones specific skills in the context of a business owner’s life. It’s the most effective approach because the executive and personal aspects of your life are integral to running a successful business.
A business coach will help you create value in your business by working with you to develop the processes and systems that will enable it to grow. And an experienced business coach will create value by drilling down into the financial performance and making highly astute suggestions for improving your return on investment into your business. Besides the owner, who else on your team is committed to creating significant value to take your organization to the next level?
A business coach works with you and your group of specialty advisers (lawyers, accountants, etc.) to build a powerful team of advisers who will be very helpful when you want to cash in on that value created, i.e., sell the business or transfer to the next generation. And, because many small and medium-size owners view professional service providers as overpriced consultants, these same people fail to see the value a trusted adviser can be to the business. So, the right coach can bring a lot more to the table.
How to pick the right business coach
We’ve talked about the difference between a mentor and a coach, but let’s spend a minute examining the difference between a coach and a consultant.
Journalist Adele Ferguson, who writes for Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald, recently described a consultant as having the role of all care and no responsibility. The consultant, she says, "borrows your watch to tell you the time and then charges you for it."
An effective business coach will teach you how to do it for yourself. They’ll teach you how to focus on the things that will grow your business. And then they’ll do something a consultant will not: They will hold you accountable for reaching those goals.
Coaches take responsibility for making you better without taking credit for your accomplishments.
Do you have the time for a business coach?
We’ve all heard how celebrity CEO's like Elon Musk have 80-hour workweeks and sleep just six hours a night. Or, how Virgin Group founder Richard Branson gets only five to six hours of sleep a night. Maybe you've heard of Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google from 2001-2001 and Chairman from 2001-2007? He didn't believe he needed a coach. At the time, he was the CEO of one of the most successful companies on the planet! But, coaching quickly became a huge value add to him. Pick up a copy and read his book Trillion Dollar Coach: The Leadership Playbook of Silicon Valley's Bill Campbell, written by Eric Schmidt and two other colleagues, about their coaching experience working Bill Campbell.
Never heard of Bill Campbell? Well I bet you never heard of Butch Harmon either. He was Tiger Woods' swing coach.
So, if they’re that busy, how would they find time for coaching? If you are that successful, like them, why would you need to hire a coach?!? I imagine these are probably questions you have, as well.
Do you have time to work with a coach who is going to push you to do things you feel you don't have the time to do?
Let me ask you a few questions:
Could you take an eight-week vacation from your business? How about a one-week or two week break? If your answer is no because your business depends upon you too much, you may also feel like you don’t have time for coaching.
The truth is, if you don’t have the time for coaching, it’s because your business is not adequately structured to stand on its own. Businesses fail when an owner-operator doesn’t or refuses to, recognize what s/he doesn’t do well and seek help for the rest.
A business coach will help you regain control over your time, so your business doesn’t imprison you but frees you. Your coach will help return you to the frame of mind that inspired you to start a business in the first place. That is, to create more freedom, have more good fortune and fun.
Click here to book a consultation with me to see if you’re right for my coaching process.