Coaching vs Mentoring

Coaching and Mentoring: The talent retention journey

“For organizations in countries with a deficit in current leader quality, negative consequences await them as they struggle to succeed in the face of business demands with leaders who lack practiced and polished leadership skills.” DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2014/15

Are your leaders ready to navigate the complex business challenges of today? Do you have a strong future supply of leaders being developed to deal with the challenges of tomorrow?

According to the DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2014/ 2015 only 40% of leaders and a mere 25% of HR professionals view the overall quality of their organisation’s leadership as high. It seems that this is not new news, with too many countries not seeing any improvement in leadership quality when comparing the Global Leadership Forecast 2011 with the 2014/15 report. With only 15% reporting a strong bench, organisations are vulnerable. This is further exacerbated when less than half of critical positions are able to be filled immediately by internal candidates. These staggering statistics beg the question; are your leaders ready to innovate and develop your organisation now, and for the future?

The responsibility for addressing this inevitably falls with the HR Department.So, what can you do today to set up your talent pool now and for the future?

What are the most effective methods for developing skills (according to leaders)?

When leaders were asked what they thought were the most effective leadership development methods, three out of the top five answers included coaching: coaching you receive from your current manager; coaching you receive from external coaches/ mentors; and, coaching you receive from internal coaches/ mentors – other than your manager (DDI Global Forecast 2014/15).

With such a strong emphasis on coaching and mentoring it seems obvious that these should be a critical component of your organisation’s leadership development. There is however a concerning current disconnect as “only 59% of HR leaders indicated that their organisation has a mentoring/ coaching program specifically designed to address high potentials” unique needs. Yet, when asked what development practices most affected leadership development quality, high potential leaders selected mentoring by a significant margin.”

Coaching and mentoring, what is the difference?

With such a strong business case for coaching and mentoring, now is the time to ensure they are working well within your organisation. We know that they are both incredibly powerful leadership competencies that form part of an effective talent development journey. They are often used side by side, supporting each other to develop leaders at all levels across the organisation. Yet the words and practices of “coaching” and “mentoring” are often confused. What are the differences and when should each be used as part of a learning and development strategy?

What is coaching?

Coaching is a structured and question based conversation with a measureable outcome. It is a collaborative conversation that assists the coachee to identify and remove any interference that limits the expression of their potential. Coaching is an iterative process of:

  • Setting goals
  • Taking actions towards achieving these goals
  • Reflecting on the progress towards these goals, by thinking about the actions taken, the results achieved and the insights and awareness gained.

IECL focuses on a very practical and experiential approach to coaching. We recognise that the essential qualities of an organisational coach are the ability to listen, to ask powerful questions, to be curious and to build trust.

For learning and change to occur, a coach balances the dichotomy between trust and tension, works with the client’s desire for change, and can hold them to their commitment to action and sustainable change.

What is mentoring?

A mentor is a wise advisor who shares their knowledge and experience with a less experienced and usually younger person. Reverse mentoring (where a younger person mentors an older one ” e.g. in social media or new technology) is becoming more common in forward thinking organisations. The mentoring relationship is built through a special kind of conversation in which a mentor shares their knowledge and experience and acts as a guide in a particular field of endeavour with the other. The mentor listens and facilitates learning as well as fostering the mentee’s career through guidance and sponsorship. Trust and reciprocal relating are the basis of a successful mentoring relationship.

What is the difference?

Mentoring and coaching are closely related roles and they tend to overlap in many organisations, and often sit side by side supporting each other. Some leaders have both a coach and a mentor.

The corporate mentor differs from the organisational coach in the following ways.


Traditionally mentoring was an ongoing relationship. More recently mentoring has become a time bound practice, but it often continues informally.

The mentor is usually senior and very experienced, is in the same field of expertise as the “mentee” and is able to pass on knowledge and experience as well as sponsor the mentee into otherwise out-of-reach opportunities.

More long-term and targeted at the “whole” person.

Can be more informal and meetings can take place as and when the mentee needs some advice, guidance or support.

Focus is on career, onboarding and/or personal development in terms of guiding the person to walk in the shoes of their mentor.

The conversational practices that a mentor has are the ability to listen, and share experience where relevant. Advice giving and story-telling are an essential part of mentoring.

The agenda is open ended and set by the mentee, with the mentor providing support and guidance to prepare them for future roles. The relationship is personal and shaped by both people.

Mentoring revolves around guidance and sponsorship.

Organisational Coaching

The coaching encounter is structured and contracted around a set number, usually six to 10 sessions.

Coaches are experts in the learning and developmental processes. They do not need direct experience of the coachee’s occupation or industry.

Time bound and contracted around a set number of sessions with identified organisational goals.

Meetings are scheduled on a regular basis with little contact in between sessions. Sponsor input is sought at the beginning, middle and end.

The focus can be career but is often targeted to individualised development and growth.

The conversational practices of the coach are more in listening and questioning to draw out and empower a coachee to think differently and solve their own problems by drawing on their own knowledge.

The broad agenda is contracted through a three way relationship between the coach, coachee and the organisational sponsor. The coach then has the role of personalising this to the coachee’s context and through this managing the accountability and ethics of this three-way relationship.

Coaching revolves more around individual development, agency and growth.

Organisational coaching and mentoring should be a critical component of your organisation’s leadership development mix. Both are proven to be effective ways of managing many contemporary organisational issues such as talent retention, boosting innovation, heightening engagement and improving productivity and wellbeing. Find out more about the IECL’s multitude of coaching and mentoring options from individual coaching and mentoring, customised programs to develop internal coaches and mentors as well as the International Coach Federation Accredited Coaching Training Program:

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