The difference between a coach and a mentor

15th November 2018

There are, undoubtedly, some overlaps between coaching and mentoring. However, both coaching and mentoring have distinct purposes and boundaries. Understanding the difference between a coach and a mentor is essential to understanding what you personally need. It’s also important to understand the key differences between a coach and a mentor before embarking on a career, or training as a coach.


The CIPD explain some key differences between coaches and mentors. According to the CIPD, both approaches draw on similar skills but coaching tends to be more short-term with a view to meeting particular goals, whereas mentoring is a more long-term and open-ended arrangement with a broader aim. We understand this view but it only describes a particular kind of coaching and, as a transformational coaching school, we believe that coaching does not have to be short-term or goal focused and, outside of traditional corporate settings, it is showing up in many different ways.

At Animas we believe that a coach’s role is to facilitate growth and change in the individual without guidance. And that is where the key difference lies for us.


Mentoring relationships are generally a top-down approach whereby a less experienced individual learns and gains from a more experienced person. Often these relationships are self-forming or encouraged within organisations.

Generally speaking you won’t receive a tailored or planned approach to learning and change, but you will benefit from informal access on an ‘as needed’ basis. The idea behind mentoring relationships is to grow and transform gradually, somewhat ‘in the image’ of the mentor.

The critical thing here is that you are expecting greater experience, knowledge, guidance and advice.


Coaching, on the other hand, provides a more equal relationship with a coach. Typically the coach work in service to you with a focus on facilitating learning and discovery through the conversation.

A coach will support to reach your own understanding, solutions and changes with the benefit that you don’t necessarily need a coach skilled in your specific career, or even with the same beliefs and values as you. They are very much a facilitator of growth for you.

Together with a coach you can expect to set goals or explore key outcomes and, from there, take a journey of discovery.


However, despite coaching and mentoring having distinctly different purposes and frameworks, there is an overlap in the processes employed by each. Both mentors and coaches display skills in listening, questioning, supporting, celebrating and more.

A mentor is likely to be constrained by who they are and what they have achieved as a person in the role they are mentoring. Hence mentoring relationships often just ‘happen’ as two individuals across the strata gel and work towards a mutually beneficial relationship. Mentoring is very much about the relationship.

In contrast, a coach, or at least a reputable one, will have been specifically trained and equipped with the express skills needed to help an individual explore their challenge.

The relationship between the coach and the individual they are coaching is based solely on the benefit of the one being coached, and their achievement in a specific area. For example, a coach might be charged with getting someone to speak more confidently, or to make a career change.


Not everyone is fortunate enough to discover, or be led to, a worthwhile mentoring relationship. Even if they are, mentoring has its limitations as it is predicated on the knowledge and skills of the mentor. However, anyone can choose to use a coach, whether personally, or employed on their behalf with a job-related goal in mind.

If you have a specific personal problem that needs an impartial eye and room to facilitate change, then a life coach can be the answer. Similarly, if your organisation is experiencing gaps between the talent they have and the talent they need, then a workplace coach might be useful. The reality is, finding the right coach or mentor for you can be invaluable for the future.

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