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.