I’ve had so many discussions with many talented business mentors and coaches about the difference between these two roles. I felt I just had to explain my views on this. In a recent workshop I facilitated, this topic was literally argued among the attendees all of whom were mentors and coaches.
So what’s the difference between a Business Mentor and Business Coach?
Well to the client (coachee or mentee) very little. My concern is making sure the mentor or coach has the right motivation, ability, skills and agenda (the clients) at heart. Most clients can’t explain the difference and it isn’t too important to me either to be honest. When Coaching I’ve been called a mentor. When mentoring I’ve been called a coach. All this proves is the client doesn’t know but is still committed to improving in one or many areas and “uses” someone they trust to help them develop. The only people who seem to care about the definition of these roles are coaches and mentors.
The History of the words Coach and Mentor.
In Greek mythology, Mentor is the name of the friend of King Odysseus. The King fought in the Trojan wars. Mentor was entrusted to look after Telemachus, the Kings son, whilst he went to war. The King had such faith in Mentor that he trusted him to guide and teach his son techniques in his absence. He had “been there and done that”. The title Mentor has evolved into the label given to a trusted advisor often an older person and/or usually has more experience in a particular field.
The word coach was another name for a tutor, rather than teacher, who would prepare a student for learning. The name coach was and still is, often used in a sporting context for one who trained athletes and the rowers of the boat races. Its origins, however, simply refer back to the mode of transportation, as in “carriage”. Apparently, it is originally a French word.
I dropped history at school so I credit Google for this lesson.
OK so you want a more relevant technical description? A mentor is a trusted person who guides another using the benefit of their own wisdom, a kind of “uncle” or “auntie” figure. I see a mentor as one who guides the person and has a holistic approach. The relationship could cover many areas of development and is usually on a confidential one-to-one basis. Whereas I see coaching as looking at improving one skill at a time and can be one-to-many. Therefore mentoring is often a longer term relationship.
Analogies are great a way of putting things into context. There are many for coaching and mentoring (oh and consultancy and counselling too). Football is my first language, this is debatable too as I am an Oldham Athletic fan. So using sport as an example; a mentor could be another, often older or more experienced, footballer sharing tips with a less experienced team-mate. However, the coach has a specific job to do and is employed to improve skills of the player(s).
In a business context.
A business mentor is often someone who has a greater understanding of specific challenges a business owner has to overcome. This could be anything from how to focus on the business rather being trapped than in it. It could be around developing into a better leader. Sometimes a mentor has specific experience that a mentee would want to hear about or even is from a particular sector. Mentoring can be either voluntary or chargeable. Mentoring should be one to one and built on mutual learning and trust. A business coach on the other hand often has a specific job to do like improving sales, marketing, leadership, performance etc. and can work with multiple employees is employed until the client has “arrived” at the point they had agreed.
Well actually I do. There are many fantastic coaches and mentors who are an ideal “match” for their clients. However, it seems to me that the only people who argue about the role of these crucially important people are actually coaches and mentors. I am a coach, I am also a mentor. I know literally hundreds of other coaches and mentors. What is more important to me, however, is that my client learns and develops in the way which is best for them, their title is not so important.
Is the name really so important?