Blog articles

Coaching and Mentoring – what is the difference and what do I need?

If you Google definitions of Coaching and Mentoring you will find a lot of different ones, many of which contradict each other.  For quite a long time this frustrated me.  I now think it doesn’t matter too much as long as you are getting what you need from the coaching/mentoring relationship.

In this blog I am going to explain what I think the difference is.

I like to use an analogy “Mentoring is like putting a scaffolding around a building.  Coaching is like crossing a bridge”.


Imagine that ‘you and your career’ is the building and your mentor is the scaffolding.  While you work together, you focus on different parts of the building, determined by you, supported by the scaffolding, your mentor.  There is no substantial change, but when the mentoring relationship ends and the scaffolding removed, you are a developed and upgraded version of you.

Mentoring is often provided in work, through professional bodies such as the ICSA or informal relationships formed throughout your career.  Your mentor may have received some training to do the role, may be a trained coach or some people do it well instinctively.  But there can sometimes be a lack of clarity about what mentoring is and what is required from a mentor.  Some internal mentoring programmes, such as ones designed to achieve a particular outcome such as becoming a Partner or promotion in a company, might be more directive.  To go back to my analogy, in these cases, the mentor may determine what parts of the building you need to work on.  Even so, it is well established that telling someone what they should do is never the best way of developing someone, so this approach should still give you scope to input.


Coaching is like crossing a bridge.  You start on one bank of a river and supported by your coach you decide where you want to be when you finish.  You spend time defining very carefully what location you want to reach over the bridge – your goal(s).  Once you know where you are trying to go, you meet regularly with your coach and walk together across the bridge.  The regularity of meetings and goal focussed approach supports the achievement of significant change and/or the building of new habits.  Therefore, when the coaching relationship finishes, you will find yourself on the other side of the river, in your dream location.  This might literally be a new location – a new job or a promotion.  But it could also be a new version of you – more resilient, more confident, a wider choice of soft skills to choose from, to name but a few.

Some coaches are accredited and are required to complete regular CPD, giving assurance of quality.  Some coaches developed their skills informally, or formally but have chosen not to go down the accreditation route.

This diagram summarises further the differences between coaching and mentoring as I see them.

Coaching and Mentoring Venn Diagram

© Lesley Ward Coaching

So, if you are trying to decide whether you need a coach or a mentor my tip would be to think about what you would like to achieve.  Then, irrespective of whether it is called Coaching or Mentoring, check to see whether your choice will deliver that.

If you would like to discuss the differences and what you might need, I am happy to have a chat – please get in touch.

Climate emergency, diversity and the chief corporate governance officer – reflections on the 2019 ICSA Conference

The 2019 ICSA Conference had its usual mix of speakers and perspectives which it can sometimes take a while to synthesise.  A few days later I am a little surprised to find that what I took away from it can be woven together by a quote that Professor Sir Cary Cooper (Professor of Organisational Psychology and Health, ALLIANCE Manchester Business School, University of Manchester) used in his fascinating presentation about “The costs, sources and strategies to enhance mental wellbeing at work”.  Read more here.

Coaching governance professionals – common themes

I have been coaching and mentoring governance professionals for several years now and there are some themes that arise repeatedly.  In my next few blogs, based on my experience, I will share with you what those common areas are, the goals you can set in those areas and actions that can be taken to achieve your goals.

The common areas include:-

Click on the links above to read those blogs.

My career is going really well, why do I need a Coach?

I meet Governance Professionals daily as part of my work and I know what a confident, knowledgeable and together bunch of people you are.  You regularly hold your own in the boardroom; meet the daily challenges of the role without batting an eyelid; lead a successful team; garner respect and ooze authority and follow a well-planned career plan.  Many of you wouldn’t dream of thinking that you ‘needed’ a coach.  After all coaching is for more junior people who haven’t got this stuff right?  Or for people who are failing?

Wrong – if that was the case why do so many Executives have coaches?  Coaching is for high performers, at any stage of their career, to help them become even more of a high performer.  Find out more here.

Setting deadlines for board papers that work

Last week I blogged about negotiating deadline extensions if you are unable to meet deadlines set by other people.  But one issue that comes up time and time again during mentoring and coaching sessions is “how do I ensure that the Board pack goes out on time without a late night in the office?”.  A key element of this is of course setting deadlines that your executive team respect and meet.  On this one I admit I do not have a magic solution, but click here for a few suggestions.

LinkedIn article 25/1/19

Negotiating Deadline Extensions

Sometimes, despite having my time management strategies in place and having tackled my procrastination, I still find myself unable to meet a deadline.  At times there just are not enough hours in the day.  When this happens I need to be able to negotiate an extension in a way that does not negatively impact on my work reputation.  As a Governance Professional I think this is crucial – how can I expect others to take my deadlines seriously if I do not treat theirs with respect?  Click here for more information.

LinkedIn article 18/1/19

What if there is so much to do I just don’t know what to do first?

I think I am not unusual in sometimes finding myself paralysed with the sheer volume of things to do.  That feeling of when you can’t settle to one job, but keep jumping from one to another and end up finishing nothing.  I have a few tricks I use when this happens.  Click here to find out more.

LinkedIn article 11/1/19

Help – there are not enough hours in my day!

Most of us are familiar with this scenario.  You get into the office on a Monday morning.  You know what you need to achieve in the coming week (it’s board paper week) but by the time you’ve walked from your desk to the kitchen to make your first cup of coffee and back to your desk you’ve already had 4 new verbal requests.  Then you check your email – the Chair has been busy over the weekend and suddenly there are lots of other things to do.

How do you ensure that you can achieve them all and still get your board pack out in time?  Time management skills are crucial if you want to be an effective governance professional.  Click here to read about what worked for me.

Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ)

What is it, and how relevant is it in our role as Governance Professionals? (read more)

The Company Secretary – the HR Director’s best ally?

Being an HR Director can sometimes be a lonely business.  You are responsible for the people aspects of the organisations strategy, but in certain circumstances, such as the transformation of the Executive Team or senior talent management and succession planning, you may have to do this in a vacuum from your team.  Have you ever considered that the Company Secretary is in a similar position and building a good relationship with them could help you both to achieve your goals? (read more)

Can I fast track the development of soft skills required of a governance professional?

A series of blogs outlining how you can fast track the development of your soft skills required of you as a governance professional (read more)

A guiding hand
ICSA’s mentoring scheme offers bespoke, confidential support to help governance professionals fulfil their potential (read my article)
(article originally published in Governance and Compliance Magazine,

The Role of the Company Secretary – Reflections on the 2017 ICSA Conference (read more)
Having had time to reflect on the ICSA 2017 Conference a clear theme emerges for me – the Company Secretary role is much more than the glorified clerical role it can sometimes be seen as.  This statement will not be a surprise to any of my fellow Company Secretaries, but as we know, the role is still not widely understood and is often overlooked.

To illustrate this point here are some of the things the ICSA Conference speakers this year challenged Company Secretaries to do…

Free Mentoring via the ICSA (read more)
Being a Company Secretary can be both a rewarding and challenging experience and sometimes it can be helpful to speak confidentially to an independent third party to help you think things through.

Could company secretaries benefit from coaching? (read more)
In the following article I suggest that coaching is the ideal way of helping Company Secretaries build the skills required to realise their full potential, particularly in smaller organisations where there may only be one or two such roles.

Where was the company secretary? (read more)
It feels like every week there is a new corporate scandal, whether in the public, private or third sector. And every time a new one emerges, the first thing I think is: where was the company secretary?