I often get asked what is the difference between a mentor and a coach? It’s a great, important and fundamental question, simply because it can help manage and ground expectations.

In my opinion there is a significant distinction and its worth exploring as its critical to the relationship between coach and coachee. Understanding this is worth its weight in gold when wanting to engage someone to help you with a challenge you have.

Whitmore (2009) described coaching as ‘unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.’

Coaching has its routes in therapy and has evolved to stand on its own proud, of how it can support people across a number of problems and solutions. That said, coaching is still a work in progress but its growing and I see it developing further and embedding itself in leadership fully in the future. Lets look at the differences using setting up a business as an example:

1. A therapist will explore whats stopping you from setting up that enterprise
2. A counsellor will listen to your anxieties about the enterprise or product
3. A mentor will share tips from her/his own experience of setting up enterprises or products
4. A consultant will advise you on how to set up the enterprise or launch the product
5. The coach will encourage and support you in running the enterprise and launching the product

I’ve talked many times about non-directive and directive coaching and what distinguishes them. Mentoring, I believe, is more focused on the directive end of the spectrum where the coach sets the goals and provides solutions. Coaching is at the non-directive end of the spectrum, treating coachees as adults who are quite capable of setting their own goals, solving their own problems and finding solutions. The coach, through listening, questioning and feeding back enables and facilitates that in a conducive environment. The coach creates the space and place for the coachee to express what they are feeling, thinking and expressing.

Rosinski’’s (2003) view of coaching was ‘the art of facilitating the unleashing of people’s potential to reach meaningful important objectives.’ Could not have put it better myself.

Coaching is forward focused, coachee led, about improving performance. Coaching favours outcomes rather than analysis and it helps the coachee think about success rather than failure. It starts with the premise that it is enabling and facilitative, centred on the coachee and resolving their challenge. Expect a great coach to listen attentively, question and provide exceptional challenge where needed and help you get to a place where you can take progressive action.