The terms coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably. They seem synonymous, and while there are similarities and some overlap, there are also significant differences that should be noted.
A mentor is someone who shares their wisdom and can facilitate action that has a positive effect on our careers and lives. Mentorship programs in workplaces and universities are based on the idea of matching new employees with more experienced staff with mentoring skills, who will advise and provide insight. In the workplace, mentors can advise, help with career advancement, provide professional development advice, and build networks.
Mentorships often evolve from a previous relationship (such as professors or previous bosses) and can also be formed with a current boss. Mentoring is usually done informally and is unpaid. There is not always a set agenda, and contact ranges from very frequent to on an as-needed basis.
What Coaching Is
Distinct from mentoring skills, coaching is a conversation that helps people develop their skills, achieve success, and reach their goals. Coaching is a way of expressing the truth, confronting tough issues, and is centered around language that inspires. It is usually one on one, although there is team coaching going on now too.
Coaching has evolved to become an expected competency for supervisors, and as it has evolved, so has the way that we coach. Effective managers at all levels recognize the need to develop the employees they supervise. By helping others expand their capabilities and improve their performance, managers and supervisors have more time to work on the things that will improve their own performance.
Managers and supervisors who are most effective at developing employees have incorporated the skill of coaching into their management style.
What Coaching Is Not
Although a coach can help someone perform better, coaching is not a performance management tool. Be careful of people who ask for coaching for what are really disciplinary problems rather than coaching issues. Disciplinary matters such as tardiness, attendance issues, insubordination, breach of contract, or inappropriate conduct are not part of the coaching conversation, and should be managed within their own, separate, context.