Coaching and Mentoring : Coach, Mentor: Is There a Difference?

Matt received his Doctoral Degree in Organization Behavior for the University of Oklahoma. He has served as Assistant Professor in the College of Business Administration at the University of Notre Dame and been Director of Management and Organization Development for: G. D. Searle, Phillips Petroleum and Rexnord before founding The Center for Coaching & Mentoring in 1979. He has authored five books and numerous articles on coaching, mentoring, and organization change and is speaker at national conventions on these topics. In 1989 he was awarded ASTD’s OD Practitioner of The Year Award.

Matt’s consulting base is diverse, including natural resource, banking, telecommunication and consumer products organizations. Visit to access the many free articles and leadership quizzes or e-mail him:

In 1998 we conducted an on-line survey to define what protégé’s felt were the attributes of effective mentoring relationships ( see ). A resounding YES came from responses to this open-ended question: Is there a difference between a mentor, coach, and supervisor ? These differences are summarized in Table 1:

Table 1: Differences between Mentoring and Coaching








Facilitator with no agenda

Specific agenda


Self selecting

Comes with the job

Source of influence

Perceived value


Personal returns





Task related


Mentors in either a formal mentoring program or informal relationship focus on the person, their career and support for individual growth and maturity while the coach is job-focused and performance oriented.

"A mentor is like a sounding board, they can give advice but the protégé is free to pick and choose what they do. The context does not have specific performance objectives. A coach is trying to direct a person to some end result, the person may choose how to get there, but the coach is strategically assessing and monitoring the progress and giving advice for effectiveness and efficiency."

"Mentoring is biased in your favor. Coaching is impartial, focused on improvement in behavior."

In summary, the mentor has a deep personal interest, personally involved—a friend who cares about you and your long term development. The coach develops specific skills for the task, challenges and performance expectations at work.


Mentoring is a power free, two-way mutually beneficial relationship. Mentors are facilitators and teachers allowing the protégé to discover their own direction.

"They let me struggle so I could learn."
"Never provided solutions—always asking questions to surface my own thinking and let me find my own solutions."

A coach has a set agenda to reinforce or change skills and behaviors. The coach has an objective/goals for each discussion. In our study, the top four words chosen to best describe their mentor’s dominant style were—friend/confidant, direct, logical, questioner.


Even in formal mentoring programs the protégé and mentor have choices—to continue, how long, how often, and our focus. Self-selection is the rule in informal mentoring relationships with the protégé initiating and actively maintaining the relationship. If I’m you mentor, you probably picked me. In an organization your coach hired you. Coaching comes with the job, a job expectation, in some organizations a defined competency for managers and leaders.

Source of Influence

The interpersonal skills will determine the effectiveness of influence for both coach and mentor. The coach also has an implied or actual level of authority by nature of their position, ultimately they can insist on compliance. A mentor’s influence is proportionate to the perceive value they can bring to the relationship. It is a power free relationship based on mutual respect and value for both mentor and protégé. Your job description might contain "coach" or you might even have that job title—it’s just a label or expectation. "Mentor" is a reputation that has to be personally earned, you are not a mentor until the protégé says you are.


The coach’s returns are in the form of more team harmony, and job performance. The mentoring relationship is reciprocal. There is a learning process for the mentor from the feedback and insights of the protégé.

"The ability to look at situations from a different perspective, I am a Generation X and he is in his 60’s."

The relationship is a vehicle to affirm the value of and satisfaction from fulfilling a role as helper and developer of others. Mentors need not be an all-knowing expert - such a position could be detrimental. In our study the most significant thing the mentor did was :

"listened and understood me" and, "built my confidence and trust in myself, empowered me to see what I could do."


A great deal of informal mentoring is occurring, with at risk youth, in our schools, as well as in volunteer, not for profit and for profit organizations. If I am your mentor chances are you have chosen me to be of help with some aspect of your life. Coaching even in the sporting arena is task related—improvement of knowledge, skills or abilities to better perform a given task. Mentors are sought for broader life and career issues. The protégé is proactive in seeking out mentors and keeping the relationship productive. The coach crates the need for discussion and is responsible for follow up and holding others accountable.


Coaching and Mentoring are not the same thing. Our results and experience support the conclusion that mentoring is a power free, two-way mutually beneficial learning situation where the mentor provides advice, shares knowledge and experiences, and teaches using a low pressure, self-discovery approach. Teaching using an adult learning versus teacher to student model and, being willing to not just question for self discovery but also freely sharing their own experiences and skills with the protégé. The mentor is both a source of information/knowledge and a Socratic questioner. If I am your coach you probably work for me and my concern is your performance, ability to adapt to change, and enrolling you support in the vision/direction for our work unit.

If there is still doubt in your mind visualize how the conversation and relationship would be different if your manager scheduled a coaching discussion at 2:00 this afternoon to discuss your roles, responsibilities and expectations, versus if you called your mentor to discuss some things that you have been thinking about.

© Copyright Matt Starcevich 2004

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