Coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably as though they are one and the same thing. However, they are not the same and the distinction is useful to understand. Many managers do provide what they call coaching, but in reality it is a form of mentoring. While what they are providing is valuable, it is not coaching. When managers do not understand the difference, they are unlikely to provide the necessary coaching for their people. Both mentoring and coaching are important and each has a valuable role to play in the workplace. One is not more important than the other. It is useful to picture them as opposite ends of a straight line or a ruler. When a manager understands the difference between mentoring and coaching, he or she can adapt the approach to meet the needs of the employee more effectively.
To understand the differences, let’s look at the extremes of the two and then the space in between.