Coaching is knowledge, mentoring is experience. Seeing that written down, I myself can see, that it’s not really obvious, what the difference might be, but let’s try to figure it out anyhow. I say coaching is knowledge, because without previous experience, you can go to a formal coach training and learn the toolsets that are required for you to be a coach. You come off the benches of the school and you can start your practice. That might be the reason, why nowadays “coachbots” are so popular. These are apps based on artificial intelligence, built on one or more coaching methodologies, that can guide you through as series of question by which, at the end of the day, you might have had your dilemma answered. However, we (living, breathing coaches) believe, that true coaching can happen, when two people meet, and the mutual trust, respect and chemistry bring the process forward. Of course, a good coach is like wine and matures over time, so the more clients we work with, the more time we invest in our own development, the better coaches we become. We increase our methodological knowledge, attend self-awareness groups or supervision and we present ourselves to our clients in a very conscious state. There is no room for experience here, because even if we’ve had a similar problem in our lives, our solution may not be the best for our client. So however much we want to share our own solution, we put it aside, go back to the client’s experience and ask targeted questions to get them to come up with their own solution. We say that the client is working with his own material. They own their goals, are determined and have the will and energy required to change, and move out of their well-established patterns.
The fact that coaching is client-driven may be the reason why my “coaching sceptic” friends regularly tell me that they don’t believe in coaching. The answer to the question “why?” is usually something like “we were just like in a Chekhov play. Zero ending…” When you start to ask about their goals and expectations, it often turns out that the goal was to gain knowledge or experience. And this is where mentoring comes in. The coach, who in best case is also a mentor, can recognise that the client has boarded the wrong train. Because if his goal is to acquire a specific knowledge, he needs a mentor to share his experience, not a coach. Therefore me saying that mentoring is experience…
The scope of a mentoring process is to acquire a specific skill. It’s a learning process, in which the mentor shares knowledge that he/she considers useful in that situation. He/she helps the client understand by demonstrating processes, giving specific examples. It can be particularly useful when the client needs to learn some specific behavioural traits. If for example the client, through a previous coaching process, comes to the realisation that he’s sawing down the branch he is sitting on. In this case, recognising the fact is not enough. The mentor can provide the knowledge or the resources that are needed for the client to gain insight into his/her own functioning, to be able to see where he/she is going off track. While coaching is a quick, goal-oriented process of working through an issue in a couple of sessions, a mentoring process can take years.
In a short, a coach gets you off the ground, a mentor teaches you how to fly.