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Coaching vs. Mentoring: Defining the Roles

written by: Mike Sweeney•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 4/14/2011

Defining the roles of coaching vs. mentoring can sometimes be inexact since they share many of the same interpersonal skills. Coaching is usually reserved for positions of authority such as a manager. Mentoring is performed by a person with specific skills or experience with no direct authority.

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    Basic Role Similarities

    Coach and mentor 

    Defining the roles of coaching vs. mentoring is sometimes easier when first recognizing the many similarities. Similarities range from the type of skills used with employees to the types of strategies employed to improve performance. For example, both job roles require excellent listening skills, questioning techniques, and creative thinking to help employees set and achieve their goals. Those types of skills are essential for most managerial-type jobs. Both mentoring and coaching require strong communication and observation skills in order to be perceived as effective.

    Additionally, providing inspiration and motivation, periodic one-on-one training, and encouraging personal responsibility and decision-making are similar roles for both the coach and mentor. Coaching as a skill is used more frequently than mentoring, and mentors will revert to using their coaching talents to help their mentees successfully progress during the mentoring process.

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    Lines of Authority

    Generally speaking, a coach is also the supervisor or manager of the employee. Or, to look at it in reverse, supervisors and managers routinely provide coaching to their employees as part of their job descriptions. This is a very common occurrence. They do not, however, routinely mentor employees who are part of their teams. That is left to other individuals in the organization. On the other hand, they can be a mentor to an employee who is part of another team in the organization.

    Having direct authority, responsibility and accountability for the employee and his performance plays a large part in how the skills and strategies are used. Because of their direct responsibility, supervisors and managers have a real need to observe what’s going on around them and, if necessary, coach on a day-to-day basis. Mentors will usually only provide coaching on a scheduled with their mentee since they know the mentee’s supervisor or manager is handling the day-to-day role.

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    Basic Role Differences

    Mentor with laptop 

    The most glaring difference in coaching vs. mentoring and defining the roles is the line authority responsibility that a coach generally has over the employee versus the non-authority role that a mentor has with a mentee. Because of the impact of the relationship, conversations about team members and job responsibilities, on-the-job training, follow-up procedures and discussions about consequences can be very different. Coaches have an interest in the day-to-day performance of the employee whereas the mentor will look at things on a broader scale.

    The daily interactions and decisions that an employee makes are of great interest to the coach as supervisor, especially if the actions have some bearing on the results of projects and tasks. Coaches do not have the luxury of the mentor who can sit back and see how things progress because of the lack of direct authority and accountability.

    Depending on what is being coached and why, the supervisor or manager will generally go into much more depth as a coach since the employee’s actions have a direct bearing on the team and its success. When a mentor engages in coaching as part of the mentoring process, it will be usually be linked specifically to something that was agreed upon with the mentee so as not to infringe on the actions of the mentee’s manager.

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    Sources

    The Coaching and Mentoring Network, http://www.coachingnetwork.org.uk/resourcecentre/whatarecoachingandmentoring.htm

    Image Credits

    FreeDigitalPhotos: Photostock (1) and (2)