How to Distinguish Between Coaching and Mentoring

Become a better sales coach and sales manager today.

Many people use the words “coach” and “mentor” synonymously. The fact is, there’s a clear distinction between them. In my book, Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions, here’s how I differentiated between the two.

8-Steps to Creating a Coaching Culture by Keith Rosen

The (Sales, Executive or Business) Coach, Including Manager as Coach

An expert on people and personal development who’s primary objective is to help people identify their goals, areas of improvement both in behavior and thinking and a path and strategy for them to achieve what matters most to them. This is achieved through a process of inquiry, with the underlying objective of having people come up with answers and solutions on their own to create ownership, rather than being told or directed what to do.  The manager/coach is expected to have attended an accredited or respected coach training program and has developed their skills, best practices and core coaching competences. To become a certified coach (check out the coach must commit to following a certain code of ethics.

The coach is typically a skilled specialist and experienced subject matter expert regarding a certain topic, competency, or industry. However, when coaching people outside of their area of experience or expertise, the coach does not have to be a subject matter expert in that particular industry but rather, have  a familiarity with that person’s position and most important, have a coaching framework they follow to facilitate every conversation. The top coaches are the ones who have experience, not necessarily in that person’s industry but someone who has been in the coachee’s role before (salesperson, sales manager, marketing director, VP, C-suite, etc).

Ultimately, the coach’s (and manager’s) objective is to make your people more valuable. Empowering people (giving power to) is achieved by facilitating a conversation through the use of strategic, open ended questions to help the coachee (direct report) develop their own problem solving skills that results in greater accountability and less dependence on the coach/manager.

Keep in mind, as a manager, your primary role and responsibilities haven’t changed. What has changed is how you go about engaging, communicating and developing your people to become champions and tapping into each person’s individuality. This is achieved through coaching instead of telling them what to do (coaching in your own image/building robots).

A coach’s role is to provide structure, foundation, and support so people can begin to self-generate the solutions or insights they want on their own. Coaching is based on the use of well crafted questions that create new possibilities rather than drive people towards the manager’s own expectations and agenda. Rather than continually sharing the solutions or what to do, coaching motivates people to sharpen their own problem solving skills. Learning and growth are achieved by both parties involved.

In coaching, the relationship is objective, and the focus is not only on what the person needs to do to become more successful but also who the person is and how they think. For the manager coaching their team, while the manager clearly has a vested interest in coaching their people to be their best, when truly coaching, it is never about the manager’s objectives in that conversation but about what your direct report wants. When it comes to the essence of good coaching, it’s always about the coachee and their agenda, not yours. When the manager does have an agenda, that’s a separate conversation. (When the manager has an agenda, then they would use a separate communication strategy I call the art of enrollment, which I write about in Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions.)

In some cases, a coach works on the whole person and is multidimensional, rather than solely focusing on advancing their career. The coaching relationship is built on choice rather than necessity, except when coaching is being done internally by a manager for his or her team or organization. To truly create a coaching culture, everyone gets coached and every manager needs to develop their coaching skills to coach effectively and consistently.

The Mentor

An expert in a field, industry or specific company they have worked for or are currently working for who typically acts as an internal adviser.  In many organizations, people seek out a mentor to support them in helping advance their career. Typically the coachee’s career goals and the position they hope to aspire to is the same or similar to the role the mentor has held in the past or is currently holding.

Whether an internal mentor or someone outside your company, mentoring is typically limited to focusing on advancing the mentored person’s career. Often mentors have their own approach already in mind and use the system that has worked for them in the past, without taking into consideration the style, values, integrity, or strengths of the people they mentor. As such, the mentor offers more advice and answers to the person they mentor, rather than questions that challenge people’s thinking and behavior; making this more of an advisory-driven role. While there may be a small degree of coaching involved, typically mentors are not trained in how to coach and rely on their experience to deliver value to the person being mentored.

Conversely, a coaching relationship is more collaborative with no attachment to the outcome. Coaching is more about facilitating a conversation with questions that empower people to create their own solutions, insights and new possibilities.

Mentors may have something to gain professionally and, as such, have their own personal agenda. Often, mentors are not trained (as a coach would be to trained formally to develop that specific competency based on a certain coaching framework). As such, their guidance is based more on their experience and knowledge of the profession or industry. The mentoring relationship is sometimes a sanctioned order (“Get a mentor to advance your career”) as well as driven by choice.

Photo Credit: Steven DePolo and zazzle