The difference between a business coach and a business mentor

People seem to freely interchange the titles ‘business coach’ and ‘business mentor’, but there is a difference, and business owners aren’t aware of what that difference is, explains Alex Pirouz.

People seem to freely interchange the titles ‘business coach’ and ‘business mentor’, but there is a difference, and business owners aren’t aware of what that difference is, explains Alex Pirouz.

Do you think you might need one but are really not sure whether a business coach or business mentor would suit or what the difference is? It is easy to become confused about the differences between coaching and mentoring when in fact there are some very specific distinctions.

 Business coaches are far more action-oriented; they help you get things done. Their role is usually to teach a new skill or make changes that will improve a particular desired outcome. Coaches are usually regarded as equals to you but with a specific skill that you require developing.

Many coaches are affiliated to franchise groups with excellent tools and processes at their disposal. I know of many excellent coaches and indeed refer to them when I need their help with a particular skill. For example, you may have great people skills but be hopeless at selling. This is very common. An action-oriented business coach could teach successful selling techniques so that when the business coach is no longer needed the skills are left behind in your business.

Business mentors on the other hand are a totally different breed. They are often senior in experience, have led successful business lives and carved out careers building, running and owning businesses. They impart knowledge, gently guide and challenge the entrepreneur’s ideas based on years of experience. Mentors are best if you are looking for someone to turn to in a crisis, simply bounce ideas off, provide guidance or even inspire you. In most cases, mentoring programs are measured in confidence, less mistakes, better decisions and improved leadership ability. Coaching programs are usually measured in direct benefits such as more sales, less complaints, and lower costs.

The difference between coaching and mentoring isn’t clear-cut. A mentor may draw on a number of approaches: teaching, coaching, and counseling. Indeed it can be argued that these areas often occupy the same developmental space. There are three significant, clear cut differences between mentoring and coaching: 

  • Differentiator #1: Coaching is task-oriented. The focus is on concrete issues, such as managing more effectively, speaking more articulately, and learning how to think strategically. This requires a content expert (coach) who is capable of teaching the coachee how to develop these skills. Mentoring is relationship-oriented. It seeks to provide a safe environment where the mentoree shares whatever issues affect his or her professional and personal success. Although specific learning goals or competencies may be used as a basis for creating the relationship, its focus goes beyond these areas to include things, such as work/life balance, self-confidence, self-perception, and how the personal influences the professional. 


  • Differentiator #2: Coaching is short-term. A coach can successfully be involved with a coachee for a short period of time, maybe even just a few sessions. The coaching lasts for as long as is needed, depending on the purpose of the coaching relationship. Mentoring is always long-term. Mentoring, to be successful, requires time in which both partners can learn about one another and build a climate of trust that creates an environment in which the mentoree can feel secure in sharing the real issues that impact his or her success. Successful mentoring relationships last nine months to a year.
  • Differentiator #3: Coaching is performance driven. The purpose of coaching is to improve the individual’s performance. This involves either enhancing current skills or acquiring new skills. Once the coachee successfully acquires the skills, the coach is no longer needed. Mentoring is development driven. Its purpose is to develop the individual not only for the current job, but also for the future. This distinction differentiates the role of the immediate manager and that of the mentor. It also reduces the possibility of creating conflict between the mentoree and the mentor. 

There are a wealth of good and bad business mentors and business coaches. The best thing to do is contact a few or conduct research and try to establish their value to your business. A word of mouth referral would be the best guide or to look at references and testimony. My rule of thumb tip for choosing a business mentor or business coach is to decide if you need strategic help or tactical help. Business mentors are more strategically focused than business coaches. Business mentors are longer-term business partners. Or if you are lucky you will find a “Coator’, A Coach and Mentor all in one, someone who has skill sets in both these categories.

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