top of page

Coaching, Mentoring or Advising - Spot the difference?

What are the differences and similarities? How can they be successfully combined?


  • A partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

  • Non-directive - the coach listens, asks incisive questions, challenges and helps the client think through and find their own solutions and new ways forward. The client knows themselves and their situation best of all, and is best placed to do this, helped by the coach.

  • By being objectively outside the situation, the coach can facilitate this thinking without being distracted by detail or trying to find solutions themselves. Pure coaching prohibits the coach from offering options, personal experiences or possible solutions.

  • Focus is on strengths, values, goals, beliefs, motivation and building relationships – developing self-awareness, emotional intelligence and new, positive ways of thinking. Often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, achievement and leadership.

  • Can help with emotional challenges such as stress, anxiety, self-confidence, assertiveness, procrastination. With deeper rooted psychological issues, the coach will always recommend a psychotherapist or counsellor.

  • Typically a coaching programme is designed to help with a particular problem and is of a defined length (say, six sessions). Often the problem presented by the client is not the underlying issue. The role of the coach is to help the client dig deeper into themselves to surface and address the real issue.

  • Coaches should be skilled, trained and qualified, a member of a professional coaching body working to set of ethics - which includes creating a safe place for free expression. A coach does not require experience or knowledge of the individuals role or sector, although this may be helpful.

  • Team coaching is a specific coaching practice which helps teams formulate clear goals, resolve dysfunctions, interact positively with other teams, and to find their energy and motivation to perform to their full potential.

  • Group coaching is normally a combination of mentoring and coaching, where people with similar roles or challenges meet together (online or in person) in a workshop. Coaching and questioning is mixed with relevant content and mutual sharing.

  • Coaching is more likely to provide an appropriate and transformational result, as it will be a set of actions and resolutions which have been designed and are fully owned by the client.


  • A relationship in which a the mentor shares their knowledge or experience of a situation or role, to support the action or development of someone who may be less experienced in this area.

  • Offers suggestions and options rather than direct advice.

  • Mentoring relationships tend to be regular sessions over a longer period whereby the client brings their recent experiences and new challenges to talk through with their mentor, learning and developing as they go. Over time the mentor becomes more of a sounding board.

  • More likely to be around visible, practical or professional skills – e.g. presenting, influencing, change management, finance, business development, strategy formulation, team-building etc.

  • The mentor does not need to be an expert in the area, but does need a sound appreciation of the sector and the role, in order to understand the challenges and environment. Relevant and relatable experience is important.

  • Mentoring can be mutual, where two or more people in similar roles or sectors, or with similar goals, meet to share experiences, learnings, ideas and ambitions, in a mutually supportive, non-competitive group. This can be similar to group coaching.

  • Can be very successful, so long as the client does not become overly influenced, or dependent, on the mentor.


  • Giving specific advice in a more directional way, to help the client solve a particular problems or challenges. Therefore, it requires the advisor to understand the problem, the context and the individual in some detail.

  • Typically a one or two sessions to explore, understand and solve a problem, or to work together produce a specific output (for example a strategy paper or a presentation).

  • In a business context, is likely to be task related, rather than emotional or behavioural.

  • There is a risk of providing well-intentioned but ultimately, unhelpful, advice. The advisor cannot fully know the situation and will also have personal a bias based on their own experience or values.

  • Therefore it’s important to caveat any advice and encourage the client to assess, validate, challenge and potentially dismiss it.

What they have in common

  • The coach, mentor or advisor is 100% on the side of the client.

  • Confidentiality is guaranteed.

  • They all require mutual trust, respect and open communication.

  • All require good chemistry between the coach/mentor/advisor and the client, which should be evaluated in an initial chemistry session.

  • All require skills of questioning, listening, noticing, clarifying and reframing.

  • They all aim to help the individual resolve challenges and meet their goals both personally and professionally.

  • Work, exercises or practice may be done between sessions.

Combining in one

  • Any two, or all three can be combined into the same session, and often the client may be hard-pressed to call out the difference.

  • If the client is expecting mentoring and gets coaching they may feel short-changed. So it is vital to explain that at the start.

  • The coach/mentor/advisor will attempt to coach as much as possible, mentor less and advise as little as possible.

  • They need to hold back on the temptation to provide answers or advice even when they think it is obvious what the client should do !

  • When they mentor or advise they will flag this up so it is clear what they are doing.

  • Where this is helpful, a follow-up coaching question such as “and how would you feel about doing that?” helps develop the conversation and get to the best result.

6 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page