Mentor & Coach – A Difference

Many successful people choose to invest in a network of mentors and coaches working with them, just like a personal trainer. The mentor/coach guides them toward their goals founded on their experiences, but in different ways and different stages of the development.

Mentoring and coaching are used extensively today, but what is the difference between the two? When do you need the one or the other and can you mix the two?

As a mentor

As a mentor, I provide you with guidance and direction on topics that I am familiar with based on my knowledge, experiences, and opinions. I help you consider opportunities for career growth, gain confidence and improve interpersonal skills. Mentoring is often a long-term commitment. 

Mentoring is essentially about helping people to develop more effectively. It is a relationship designed to build confidence and support the mentee so that they can take control of their development and work.

Mentoring is not the same as training, teaching or coaching, and a mentor doesn’t need to be a qualified trainer or an expert in the role the mentee carries out.  A mentor is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as an “experienced and trusted adviser”. 

As a coach

As a coach, I support you to achieve the goal(s) you have set out by helping you come up with viable solutions and holding you accountable to follow through on your action plan. Coaching is unlocking your potential to maximise your performance. It is helping you to learn rather than teaching you. Coaching is often short-term, even though it doesn’t have to be. 

There are many different coaching styles today; autocratic, democratic and holistic to mention the most common. And there are various models of coaching; GROW, TGROW and OSKAR are three examples. 

The method of coaching involves the belief that the individual has the answers to their problems within them. The coach is not a subject expert but rather focused on helping the individual to unlock their own potential. The focus is very much on the individual and what is inside their head.

More often than not, mentoring and coaching are used interchangeably in the business context. No matter your stage, both mentors and coaches can be valuable resources. I find it helpful to use both techniques during my sessions. 

Sometimes you need a knowledgeable mentor to show the way, and sometimes you need a coach to help you transform your behaviour to unlock a new level in your career or personal growth.

Mentor – Relates to the Ancient Greek

Mentoring is nothing new; it’s ancient in fact, 3000 years to be specific. 

The very first reference to this kind of supportive relationship occurs in the Ancient Greek epic poem of Homer’s Odyssey, dated back around 3000 years. In this tale, Odysseus entrusts his young son Telemachus to the care of Mentor, his trusted companion, when he goes to fight in the Trojan War. In Dictionaries Mentor is defined as “a trusted counsellor or guide.”

Coach – Originates from Hungary

The original sense of the word coach is that of a horse-drawn carriage, deriving from the Hungarian town; Koc, pronounced “kotch”, that used to build carriages in the fifteenth century. It is believed that The English word “coach” derives from the word “kocsi” which means “from the town of Koc”. Coaches (and the word “coach”) came into use in England in the sixteenth century.

The first use of the term “coach” in connection with an instructor or trainer arose around 1830 in Oxford University as slang for a tutor who “carried” a student through an exam. The word “coaching” thus identified a process used to transport people from where they are to where they want to be. Much like a coach (or carriage) would take people from point A to point B.


The year 1861 is the first time the word “coaching” is identified, as being used in an athletic sense. Britain took the lead in upgrading the status of sports in the 19th century, with sports coaches supporting athletes to excel in their chosen fields. In many ways, we associate coaching with sports, but today there is an increase of both mentors and coaches in all areas of life, personal and professional.

Fame and Success

These are a few examples of well-known mentors and mentees;

Billie Jean King mentoring Serena Williams.
Steve Jobs mentoring Mark Zuckerberg.
Christian Dior mentoring Yves Saint-Laurent.
Warren Buffett mentoring Bill Gates

And then we have some of my favourite fictive ones as well: 

Yoda mentoring Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.
Dumbledore mentoring Harry Potter.
Gandalf the Grey mentoring The Fellowship of the Ring.
Professor John Keating mentoring the students in Dead Poet’s Society.


“Tell me, and I forget, teach me, and I may remember, involve me, and I learn”.
–Benjamin Franklin

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