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Coaching vs. Mentoring: Which Choice Is Right for You?

Coaching vs. Mentoring: Which Choice Is Right for You?

At any point in your career, you can benefit from mentoring or one on one coaching. While the popular phrase “executive coaching” may make you think otherwise, this is not, and should not, be an exclusive practice. Whether you are a technical specialist who is on track to step into a leadership position, a people manager struggling with the interpersonal dynamics of your team, or a seasoned leader making a career transition, your performance, growth, and well-being can benefit from mentorship or coaching.

But, which should you go with - a mentor or a coach? While the answers popping up in your Google searches may leave you feeling confused, we’ve outlined some clear differentiators of coaching vs mentoring to help you make the right choice for your development needs.


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One To one coaching

The professional coaching industry has boomed in recent years. According to the International Coaching Federation, it is estimated that globally there were approximately 71,000 coach practitioners in 2019, an increase of 33% on the 2015 estimate. This could be in part attributed to the wider acceptance among organizations and employees of the practice and its ability to support tangible business improvements, including improved team functioning, increased employee engagement, productivity, employee relations, and faster leadership development.

So, what is one-to-one coaching in a professional context? It is a formal relationship between a coach and individual, driven by data, performance, and goals, to improve an individual's ability to succeed in their role. Some coaches specialize by function (sales, operations service), or by level (individual contributor, high-potentials, executives), or by industry, for example, real estate coaches. One-on-one coaching is a highly individualized process that can last any duration of time, though it typically has a shorter lifespan than a mentoring relationship. It is a business arrangement and can be sought out by HR professionals, managers, or individuals. According to a Harvard Business Review study, the top reasons professional coaches are enlisted include:

  • To act as a sounding board
  • To address derailing behaviors
  • To develop high potentials
  • To facilitate transitions

While the boom of this industry is exciting and promising, we must stress the importance of taking the time to carefully vet a one-to-one coach. This is because professional coaching is not regulated by any country or state, which means that no formal training or credentials are mandated for someone to call themselves a “coach.” As another HBR author noted, “when an [individual’s] problems stem from undetected or ignored psychological difficulties, coaching can actually make a bad situation worse.” To avoid this problem, select a coach with accreditation from a globally recognized, independent credentialing organization, such as the International Coaching Federation (ICF), which requires coaches meet stringent education and experience requirements.



Like one-to-one coaching, mentoring in the workplace is also known to produce direct results that benefit both the employee and the company they work for. In fact, one study found that “nine in ten workers (91%) who have a mentor are satisfied with their jobs.” Also, retention rates are significantly higher for mentees (72%) and for mentors (69%), than for employees who did not participate in a mentorship program(49%)

How mentoring differs from coaching though, is that it can take a more informal shape and is often a long-term relationship, spanning years or decades. The nature of this relationship allows it to evolve as the needs, challenges, and goals of the mentor and mentee do.

A mentor can be older or younger, working in the same company or not, in the same industry or not. These things are irrelevant so long as a mentor has expertise in a certain area that the mentee wishes to improve in or learn, whether that be a hard, technical skill or a soft, interpersonal skill. Ultimately, this type of relationship is a two-way street, where both the mentor and mentee can benefit, which is slightly different from the relationship one might have with a professional coach.


Conclusion: The Choice Between One to One Coaching and Mentoring Is Yours

You might not like it but this article won’t tell you either way if one-to-one coaching or mentoring is the best choice for you. That’s because it all comes down to your personality, goals, and individual development plan.

Fortunately, now that you know the key differences between these two types of relationships, you can make an informed decision. The bottom line is that regardless of which you do decide to go with, the right coach or mentor can be instrumental in leading a rewarding professional life as an everyday leader.

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