The Success Catalyst

Up Your Game & Bring Out Your Best

The Difference Between Coaching And Mentoring

In a world where up is down and down is up, it helps to be prepared for anything.

Years ago, I had a coaching client come to one of our sessions after just having seen “The King’s Speech”, a movie about a British royal inheriting the throne and his hired speech therapist who successfully helps the king overcome his fears to powerfully deliver the speech of his life, and she said, “That’s exactly what we do together – you challenge me to get out of my comfort zone – to let go of old ideas and limiting beliefs that aren’t serving me in order to achieve my goals, while also tapping into my inner strength and ‘finding my voice’.” 

The magic of good coaching is that the coach does not necessarily need to have expertise or even knowledge of the coachee’s professional field in order to deliver lasting beneficial results. The speech therapist knew nothing about how to rule a kingdom yet he successfully delivers the outcome the future king had so desperately sought prior to their partnership, without ever having stepped foot into a royal palace. 

And he does so by not ‘buying into’ the king’s story of himself as a stutterer. He stutters, but that isn’t the whole story. The real story, his much bigger story, is he has a kingdom to rule and a country to lead and if he wants to invigorate, unify, and inspire his fellow countrymen during a period of great uncertainty, he must do the unthinkable and face his inner demons to achieve the seemingly impossible. His impediment, the ostensible obstacle, becomes the way to his greatness, and this is the bigger story of humanity to which we can all relate. 

In the process, he learns how to “get out of himself” and focus on what his people need. In Co-Active coaching, we call that “forwarding the action and deepening the learning.” And we do that by engaging our coachees in thought-provoking and creative conversations, based on deep listening, getting curious, and asking powerful and clarifying questions so that they find and form their own answers. What they need is already inside themselves and it is our job as their coach to empower them to develop confidence in their own natural abilities and potential. 

There’s a saying, “When we go for what we want, we get what’s in the way.” Just as in TKS, when he tries to give a powerful speech, his obstacle (his stutter), prevents him from accomplishing that which is most important to him. In coaching, we want what gets in the way to show up so that we can discover the thought and behavior patterns that are not serving our coachee’s real agenda. 

These reactive tendencies are gold because now we can identify the internal barriers to their success and facilitate the process of creating new habits and competencies of thought and behavior, based on what truly matters. This allows them to cultivate new ideas, perspectives, and solutions to their ongoing challenges. 

A coach helps their coachees discover what they want, why they want it, and what they’re going to do about it. Then create structures of accountability to make it happen. Coaching is about empowering others to stretch and grow with increasing resilience to match the growing complexity and uncertainty of our ever-changing environments, and to empower others to do the same. 

Although coaching and mentoring share many similar principles and qualities: both are built on a foundation of mutual trust and respect, both can be formal and informal, and both are developmental – learning and growth being the cornerstones – there are distinct differences. 

According to the International Coach Federation (ICF), mentoring can be thought of as “guiding from one’s own experience or sharing of experience in a specific area of industry or career development.”

Think of it this way, mentors are seasoned professionals experienced and typically trained in the area they are mentoring; leadership/executive/business/career development coaches are trained to coach professionals. 

Mentors are expected to share their experience, transfer knowledge, and give advice. You look for a mentor you admire and who has “been there, done that” in your industry, profession, or domain. A mentor is often someone who has been selected by the mentee, but they can also be assigned to new hires of an organization to help them learn the ropes of their new role and navigate the work culture. Kind of like a travel guide – they show you around and have your back when you get lost or need a clearer roadmap. The mentor will hopefully serve as a role model and they often provide useful introductions and networking opportunities. 

Several years ago I provided mentor coaching to coaches in training to become Certified Professional Co-Active Coaches (CPCC) and, for that role, I was both coach and mentor. I regularly shared my experience, offered guidance, and gave advice (very lightly), in service of assisting them to become effective coaches. I listened, observed, challenged, asked powerful questions, and offered relevant feedback. 

And, I have two mentor coaches, myself! I LOVE being coached and I LOVE being mentored by seasoned professional coaches who are widely admired and who I feel resonance with. They are so different from me in so many ways, but they are leaders in the movement and have experiences that I relish and appreciate. They also see and appreciate and learn from me – I love that.

Whether coach or mentor, you want someone who has a growth mindset and who is leading by example. Gaining knowledge and acquiring information is not the same as growing. Both mentors and coaches can be invaluable as part of any professional’s career support team.

Organizationally, creating a dynamic learning culture where both mentoring and coaching is valued, offered, and practiced, is the best of all worlds. It means you are being set up for success and in this fast-moving, hyper-growth reality where anything goes, in order to thrive, we must be able master our inner game to meet the complexity of conditions head-on so that “we have it, it doesn’t have us.”

Whether coaching or mentoring, in the spirit of leadership, “let your actions inspire others to learn more, do more, dream more, and become more.”

Would love to hear your thoughts and experiences on this topic!