Eric P. Bloom: Coaching vs. mentoring

Eric P. Bloom

As a manager, it’s important to know the difference between coaching and mentoring from two perspectives.  First is how coaches and mentors can help your staff in the performance of their jobs and as part of their career development.  Second is how coaches and mentors can help you in your current job and career development.

Let’s begin by talking about the difference between coaching and mentoring, and then talk about the difference between your staff and you.

From my perspective, the best way to describe the difference between coaching and mentoring is that with coaching, a coach helps you gain perspective and clarity on an issue by asking you a series of questions and/or helps you keep focused toward a specific goal.  That said, a coach doesn’t have to have experience in your specific industry or profession because you are the expert, the coach’s expertise is helping you use your knowledge to make good decisions, attain your goals, and gain deeper understanding of a specific situation.  A mentor is best described as the voice of experience and expertise. It’s someone who can give you advice in a specific area because he/she has been there and understands the issues.  

It’s funny, for many years I thought coaching was mentoring because a coach in sports teaches you how to best play a sport based on their experience, expertise, and teaching ability.  That said, I see a sports coach and a personal/business coach as being two different things.

Also, generally speaking, a coach is someone you hire and pay to help you.  A mentor is usually someone who takes an interest in you, wants to help you succeed, and offers you his/her advice and counsel for free.  Note that both coaches and mentors can be of extreme value to your staff and to you personally.

From a manager’s perspective, personally mentoring or finding mentors to help your team can greatly enhance their performance and accelerate their professional growth. Business coaches can be more problematic to find for your team because the good ones are expensive. Unless you are at a high organizational level, have an employee having extreme difficultly, or have money to burn, hiring real business coaches for your staff is rather unrealistic.

From your perspective as an employee and professionally minded person, hiring a professional business coach and finding a mentor or two could be extremely advantageous to your career.  This one-two punch of coach and mentor would be a great combination.  A coach could provide you with the following values:

  • An objective and confidential person to discuss difficult business related issues.
  • Help you focus on and move toward your goals.
  • Be honest and truthful with you even if you really don’t want to hear it, but know you should.
  • Can act as an accountability coach.
  • Someone who is on your side with no personal or political agenda.

When selecting a business coach for yourself, it should be someone you can easily talk to, trust, confide in, and listen to. It should also be someone you respect and is trained as a professional coach.

On the mentoring side, a good mentor can:

  • Give you professional advice regarding specific business situations.
  • Give you career advice regarding your next move, needed certifications/credentials, etc.
  • Provide professional contacts that can help your career.
  • Provide a professional reference if it is a former boss or professional colleague.
  • And many other professional advantages.

Regarding finding a mentor, you can seek them out, but at the end of the day they select you, you don’t select them.  For additional information on finding a mentor, please refer to my GateHouse column “Finding a mentor” that I wrote in April 2011.

The primary advice and takeaways from today’s column is to know that:

  • A coach helps you gain perspective and clarity on an issue by asking you a series of questions and/or helps you keep focused toward a specific goal.  
  • A mentor is best described as the voice of experience and expertise.
  • The one-two punch of having a coach and a mentor is a great combination and can provide you (and/or your staff) with enormous value.  

Until next time, manage well, manage smart and continue to grow.

Eric P. Bloom, based in Ashland, Mass., is the president and founder of Manager Mechanics LLC, a company specializing in information technology leadership development and the governing organization for the ITMLP and ITMLE certifications. He is also a nationally syndicated columnist, keynote speaker, and author of the award-winning book “Manager Mechanics: Tips and Advice for First-Time Managers.” Contact him at, follow him on Twitter at @EricPBloom, or visit