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How is coaching different to mentoring?

Updated: Sep 29, 2022

... and consulting, training and therapy for that matter!

Over the last four years and hundreds of discovery sessions, it's become clear to me that a lot of people use words interchangeably and that the outcome of that can be quite a lot of confusion on what the client is actually getting when they sign up for coaching. And because I offer a number of services, including coaching, mentoring, and consulting, it can get confusing pretty quickly - sometimes even for me.

From my perspective coaching, mentoring, consulting, and training are all tools in one's toolbox, as well as all being entire professions in their own right. Each of them has pros and cons and should be used context specifically and in relation to what is actually required by the client.

When employed in its purest form, coaching is an incredibly powerful way to help the coachee draw out their own knowledge and experience to lift their performance and achieve their goals. But there are times when the coachee doesn't know what they don't know and then, other tools can become relevant and even necessary.

What coaching is and is not

Coaching is....

  • Coaching is a formal and dynamic conversation between two people - the coach (me) and the coachee (you) with the objective of helping you learn. Through active listening and skillful questioning, I create a space for you to think, to learn about yourself, to explore your strengths and weaknesses, and to pursue the alignment of your courage, creativity, and compassion to make wise decisions for yourself.

  • Coaching is essentially a collaborative, creative and solution-generating relationship. Together, we co-create the way in which we work so that we can optimise on raising awareness and insights for you so that you can take action.

  • Coaching is like a massage for the brain (this is what one of my clients told me). During coaching sessions, you experience the opportunity to brainstorm, strategise, think out loud, be challenged, stretch your brain, explore alternatives, learn about yourself, and consider your goals and objectives. Most importantly, you experience the benefits of having a space held entirely for your self-development.

  • Coaching is future-focused and action-oriented. We look at where you are now and where you want to get to. Then we work out an action plan that sets out how you are going to achieve your goals, what support you will need, what resources you will need, who you might need to lean on, when each action will be taken. And then we start with a first step. Because achieving your goals is a bit like how to eat an elephant.... one bite at a time!

  • Coaching is all about asking questions - it's not about telling you the answers. The most important skill of a coach is asking the right questions to help you work through your own issues. Your coach does not have to be a subject matter expert - coaching is about providing you with a space to think and a process that supports your learning. As your coach, I listen more than I talk, I ask questions rather than giving advice or direction (unless you specifically ask for it). With your permission, I provide insights and observations as opposed to making judgments. I guide you to focus on outcomes rather than problems. I facilitate your thinking and awareness. I help you develop achievable and defined actions, and I keep track of progress.

  • Coaching is founded on confidentiality and trust. The very basis of a relationship is trust and rapport. Together we create that relationship through honesty, openness, being brave, and curious about your learning. Anything that is said in the coaching session, stays in the coaching session.

Coaching isn't...

  • Coaching is not mentoring. The fundamental difference between coaching and mentoring is that mentoring is content-specific while coaching is not - the coach does not have to have technical experience in the area that you want to develop in - instead they have to be able to help you unlock your potential and enable you to learn. The South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP) defines a mentor as "someone who assists a less experienced person by providing motivation, guidance, emotional support and insight into a particular field in which they are experienced". There are many complexities to mentoring, but one of the key factors to successful mentoring is ensuring that the mentee develops a relationship with someone who has the technical experience that the mentee wants to develop (or doesn't yet know she needs to develop). A good mentor will have developed to the point where they are consciously competent and can help the mentee identify where they are unconsciously incompetence (don't know what they don't know and may be a risk to themselves and others) or are in that uncomfortable space of realizing how little they really know (consciously incompetent). This also suggests that if you want to be developing in multiple technical areas, you may need more than one mentor at different stages in your career to match with the expertise that you may need to develop as your career evolves.

  • Coaching is not training or consulting. In coaching we look at unlocking the potential inside you - you are your own subject matter expert. As your coach, I am not here to provide the answers or teach you specific skills. I am here to hold a space for you to find your own answers. It doesn't mean that I can't teach you a few skills or show you the answers that you don't yet have the experience to see, and at some point in the session, I may ask if you want to step out of coaching and into the space or mentoring, training or consulting. The choice really is yours. The problem with that is that when we are told what to do or how to do something, we are less likely to take ownership of the action (because that's how our brains work).

  • Coaching is not therapy. Coaching is outcome and action-oriented, whereas therapy aims to unravel the past to understand the source of an issue. In coaching, even though we may delve briefly into the past and present to explore what's blocking you from moving forward, we focus on the solution rather than on going deep into the problem.

  • Coaching is not a quick fix. The development of trust and rapport takes time. While you can expect to develop insights, and experience the benefits of coaching in one session, it often takes more than one session to make real changes. How many sessions you should have is really dependent on the extent of your goals. If you are looking to make great changes, you may need more sessions. The amount of support you need and how committed you are to doing the "in-between session" work is also a factor to consider in determining how many sessions to have.

So to sum up...

Coaching is a wonderful process for empowering you to think for yourself and to take ownership of the actions in achieving your desired goals.

The way I explained this to someone else the other day was as follows:

"Coaching is a great way to harness all your strengths and creativity to take action in the direction of your goals! In coaching what we do is figure out where you are now and where you want to get to. It requires a lot of vulnerability, soul searching, honesty, and a real commitment to yourself to take action!

But we have fun with the process! Because in coaching you get to learn a lot about yourself, your strengths, your values, who you are, where you want to be, who you need to support you, what resources you need to make it happen. Most of that is serious stuff! So we have to have fun with it to keep it from being hard and scary!

The journey is exciting and as you learn and grow, it gets easier and your eyes open to the host of possibilities before you! I truly believe coaching is like magic if you let it in, embrace the process, and do the work! Taking ownership of the truth in your life can be scary - it's also extremely liberating and empowering!

Opening up to someone requires vulnerability and trust - and yet letting yourself be known helps you to share the burden and develop allies and support"


I love conversations and would love to engage with you on your career and how you are managing yourself and your career like a business.

I believe "managing your career like a business" means having insight on where you want to go in your career, the agility and resilience to change track when necessary, competence to navigate transition points, and self-awareness to manage yourself.

I help you do that through one-on-one coaching, CV and LinkedIn profile writing, topic-specific workshops, and a suite of blogs and other materials available on my website. Want more information? If you would like to explore how coaching could help you take the next leap in your career, you are welcome to book a complimentary discovery session..

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