Over the years working with clients, I’ve discovered that there is often confusion about what are the differences between mentoring, coaching and training. We all know that these are ways for an expert or experienced individual to help people do something more effectively. That’s the similarity. But the differences…
Mentoring is generally an informal relationship between two people. A mentor will do many of the same things as a coach or even someone who is a trainer, but there is no formal obligation on the part of either party. A mentoring relationship often develops gradually from a friendship or a professional association, intensifies as the mentor discovers he has valuable insight and experience to share, and as the person being mentored discovers his desire to learn from the mentor. The two people will at some point recognize the special nature of their relationship, but may not name it. And as life circumstances change, the relationship will gradually de-intensify. It will often turn into a friendship of peers.
In working on this article, I read a number of other articles about the differences between coaching and mentoring. All of them talk about how a coach does not provide solutions or answers. I beg to differ. Think of an athletic coach. An athletic coach definitely does not simply ask the athlete questions and help them bring out their own solutions to problems. An athletic coach helps point out problems, makes very definite suggestions, and sometimes even intervenes physically to help the athlete do the right thing. So what is coaching? The main difference is in terms of formality.
A coach is a coach from the start of the relationship with the person being coached. The person being coached has a specific goal to achieve. It can be long term or short term, but it is specific. The coach is there to help that person meet their goal. Once the goal is met, the relationship is re-evaluated.
Here are some of the ways that coaching can happen (actually, mentors do these things too):
- The Socratic Coach – asks lots of probing questions.
- The Hands-On Coach – shows people a way to solve a problem, but leaves it to the individual to mimic or do something different.
- The Intervention Coach – mostly observes and at key moments intervenes to help an individual choose a specific path of action.
- The Guiding Coach – provides constant (usually gentle) reminders to help an individual keep within a specific path of action (guide rails).
Classroom training is the type of training we most often think of, but it is not the only kind. There is also on-the-job training and of course all sorts of e-learning methods of training. Training is very formal, should have well-defined learning objectives, and is often relatively brief as compared to coaching or mentoring.
Training can also include many of the types of interaction that are found in a coaching environment, but there is a very strong focus on the trainer being a subject matter expert. The trainer has extensive experience or knowledge in the subject that is being delivered in the training. It is expected that the participants in the training learn from the trainer – there is knowledge transfer. How this happens can be very flexible, of course, and good training is never just a speaker standing at the front of the room and lecturing for the whole time. Discussion, simulations, case studies, and other forms of interaction are critical for an effective training experience.
Some other links: