Other | November 15, 2018

Guest Blog: Key Differences Between Business Coaching And Mentoring - Which Do You Need?

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This is a #GEW2018 guest blog from Chris Pearse, Business Coach to CEOs, Entrepreneurs and Business-owners having coached, facilitated and consulted for FTSE100s, SMEs, Non-profits and Startups for the past 15 years. Get in touch with him viaqa his website: www.chrispearse.coach

Coaching and Mentoring are often mentioned in the same breath and intertwined in our minds, yet they are crucially different and conflating them can cause problems for the coach, mentor and client.

Use of the word Coach in a business context derives from Oxford tutors who would ‘carry’ their students to academic success. Mentor, on the other hand, is a reference to a character in Homer’s Odyssey who, in his old age, was given charge of Odysseus’ son.

So at first sight, the distinctions are not so obvious - both have responsibility for another’s development, only possible through a superiority of experience and know how.

Today, both have assumed distinct meanings (not always agreed upon), the details of which are critical to delivering value to the entrepreneur, business owner or director. So let’s have a closer look at 5 of these differences:


Coaches need experience of coaching - they do not need to know a great deal about the operational, market and business realities in which the client is immersed. In fact such knowledge can impede progress as the coach’s focus needs to be elsewhere.

Mentors, in contrast, need subject matter expertise and familiarity with the client’s operational challenges. They don’t need any coaching experience, in fact, they don’t even need any mentoring experience to be effective. They just need to know about the specificpractical challenges that their client is facing.


Coaches focus on the ‘how’ - how is the client approaching their challenge? What are the belief-systems and mindsets that are impeding progress? How is the client dealing with the relationships that can make the difference? How are they influencing others? Coaches focus
on the causal level of the client’s behaviour, which may also include the ‘why’.

Mentors tend to focus on outcomes - the ‘what’. If something isn’t working, this is why and this is what you need to do next time. They know the answers (usually) because they have concrete experience that is directly transferable to the client’s specific situation. The focus is on the end result, not the client.


Coaches know that the client is responsible for their actions, consequently, a coach is unlikely to suggest solutions. Instead, they will challenge the client to come up with their own solutions and stress-test the client’s thinking by asking questions that reveal a bigger picture.

Mentors may be far less clear on their modus operandi, making a strategic outcome, or a solution, their sole objective. They may be less concerned about responsibilities as long as the client gets the best result out of their relationship. A mentor might well say “If I were you,
I would do this…”, something many coaches would never say.


Coaches’ relationships with their clients need to observe certain formalities to deliver real value. Although the relationship should be friendly, coach and client cannot be friends. Without a certain distance, the coach will find it difficult to really challenge the client’s
thinking, without feelings interfering. The coach, of necessity, will be questioning the client’s deepest and most closely held ideas about themselves.

Mentors’ relationships with their clients are far less critical to the outcomes since the focus is an impersonal one - a business one. In transactional terms, the relationship is parent-child
and the client will defer to the mentor’s knowledge and experience. It is helpful for the client
to like the mentor and respect their achievements.


Coaches generally need training to perform effectively, simply because good coaching can be counter-intuitive to those of us that are solution-orientated. Suspending judgement, reading a client’s feelings, intuiting unhelpful client beliefs, creating a safe space and sensing how deep to go, are all critical coaching skills that need practice and never stop developing.
Mentors do not need training to be effective - they should already have the subject matter expertise they require as mentors. Since they will probably have attained senior positions professionally, they will generally have the skills to impart that knowledge effectively.

1. Not everyone agrees on the definitions above - some reverse them.
2. Really effective coaches and mentors will, if necessary, shift from one discipline to
the other on occasion, but they will be very clear on the difference.
3. Although good coaching may well be therapeutic, it is not therapy.
4. Mentor relationships can be long term. Coaching relationships need to be time-bound
in order to mitigate the risk of dependency.
5. Because coaching is accelerating the development of the client, it is not unusual for clients to change career or even lifestyle as a result of good coaching. 


Chris Pearse is a Business Coach to CEOs, Entrepreneurs and Business-owners having coached, facilitated and consulted for FTSE100s, SMEs, Non-profits and Startups for the past 15 years. His website is https://chrispearse.coach and he can be contacted at chris@chrispearse.co.uk . He is a Chartered Engineer and contributes to Forbes.com on Leadership matters.

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