Coaching vs. Mentoring

[fusion_text]Since the concepts of formalised or supported coaching and mentoring in the world of work emerged some 30 years ago, there has been a continuous and sometimes confusing journey of evolution – both for coaching and mentoring and those of us who practice and/or research in the field.
A historical perspective is useful here. At the beginning of the 1980s, the worlds of coaching and mentoring were deceptively simple and apparently uniform. Mentoring was a shadowy, informal phenomenon, vaguely related to career support for people in professions. Its origins lay, to a considerable extent, in the concepts of guilds (mutual support organizations) and apprenticeship. Coaching, as practiced, was a relatively directive activity that had evolved out of instruction. Then three things happened that shifted this cosy picture.
The first was the gradual formalisation of mentoring in the United States during the early 1980s, a model of mentoring emerged that saw mentoring as a form of godfathering or sponsorship. The experience and power of the mentor were paramount in this relationship, which inevitably had strong elements of directiveness within it. The second and third phenomena happened pretty much in parallel. In the United States, in particular, the traditional model of coaching began to be challenged and there gradually evolved a different model (which for convenience we can call developmental coaching) that was much more client-centred and far less directive in tone and approach. Meanwhile, in Northern Europe, I and others had found that the US-originated model of mentoring simply didn’t work in cultures, where patronage was frowned on and where the emphasis was far more on helping people manage their own personal development and careers than on “overseeing their careers”, as the US model was defined. A different model of mentoring emerged – one that emphasised non-directive behaviours, and mutual learning rather than hands-on assistance. David Megginson and I, along with colleagues at Sheffield Hallam University, were at the forefront of this evolution, which led to the creation of the European Mentoring Centre (EMC), in 1992. For convenience again we can label these two models sponsorship mentoring (primarily US in origins) and developmental mentoring (primarily European).
By the mid-1990s, the coaching profession was growing rapidly in Europe, but the US domination of this emerging profession created a cultural imperialism – an assumption that the world order in coaching and mentoring, as seen from a US perspective, was somehow the only valid one. Coaches and the US-dominated professional bodies – eager to establish their role in an emerging marketplace – made generic claims about the relative virtues and characteristics of coaching and mentoring, without any regard to the cultural and contextual differences between the US and Europe in their approaches to mentoring.
Of course, the mentoring community in Europe pushed back, with motives that were sometimes as imbued with self-interest as those of the coaches, who were denying the legitimacy of non-directive mentoring models. The stage was set for a general battle along the lines of “Hey, you get off of my cloud!” If I look back at my own reactions at this point, a dominant emotion was indignation. It was perhaps inevitable that I and others would respond by pointing out that, whatever the ICF and others claimed, the majority of coaching in the workplace was of the traditional, largely directive variety. Both sides retreated into a kind of cold war of competing, mutually denigrating definitions.
This wasnot a sustainable situation, on all fronts. It also did not fit with the values of inclusiveness that were so important to the EMC. So the world of mentoring in Europe reached out to the world of coaching with an olive branch – “Let’s work together to promote the principles we espouse”. With the help of stalwarts, such as Eric Parsloe, who bridged both worlds, an alliance was formed that recognised the many similarities and shared values – including an emphasis on non-directiveness –between developmental coaching and developmental mentoring. The EMC therefore evolved into the EMCC (European Mentoring and Coaching Council). It became clear at that time that the significant differences lay not between developmental coaching and developmental mentoring, but between these non-directive approaches and the more directive perspectives of traditional coaching and sponsorship mentoring. Even here, directiveness and non-directiveness is not an absolute – it is a spectrum, with practice and theoretical constructs distributed along it.  As long ago as 1998, in my book Learning Alliances, I proposed four different approaches to coaching, built around a matrix of directiveness/ non-directiveness v intrinsic / extrinsic observation.  The non-directive style that stimulates intrinsic observation is common to both developmental coaching and developmental mentoring.
Although it has sometimes been necessary to go back over old ground to reaffirm and re-assess, the argument about coaching vs mentoring is, in my view, an obsolete and irrelevant one. Virtually every factor that we might put forward as a source of difference can be countered with exceptions to the rule. For example, there are schools of coaching thought that say that coaches need no understanding and knowledge of the client’s world, and others that say that such knowledge is essential; approaches to mentoring that emphasise access to the mentor’s knowledge and experience in a specific career path and approaches that emphasises being able to take an objective view, based on wider life experience.
This diversity can be confusing, to say the least, but it provides a rich topography, where definitions are relevant only insofar as they characterise a particular approach, in a particular context, for a particular purpose. I see my role as a researcher and observer in large part to be one of describing this map of the world of coaching and mentoring, not to pin down and evaluate, but explain and cross-pollinate.
Organizations and people like to place stakes in the ground (even if the ground is shifting). So some sense of the shades and nuances that might colour the practice of developmental mentoring and developmental coaching has a pragmatic utility within the kaleidoscope of different purposes, cultures and theories. The table below represents one way of looking at the similarity and difference – it is, in essence, another snapshot in time. The characteristics described under similarities will frequently, but not always, be shared between the two constructs. Equally, the characteristics in the differences column will only represent a difference of emphasis that is frequently observed, but is by no means ubiquitous. And because this is a snapshot in time, in an evolving picture, the map of praxis may look very different in, say five years’ time.

Similarities Differences
  • Focus on the quality of the learner’s thinking
  • Coach/mentor uses their experience to craft powerful questions
  • Advice-giving is permissible, but not as a first resort and only in specific circumstances. (A common complaint about ineffective coaches is their over-rigid adherence to never giving advice.)
  • Much of the learning occurs in the reflections of the coachee/mentee between or long after sessions
  • Coach and mentor both have a duty of care towards the coachee/ mentee
  • Mentors more likely to make introductions, help develop networks
  • Mentors more likely to help explain politics of a particular organization or profession
  • Coaches (in the workplace context of line manager to direct report) more likely to give feedback
  • Coaching tends to be a short- or medium-term assignment or activity focused on performance in a defined field or role
  • Mentoring tends to be a medium- to long-term relationship focused on career or on more holistic, less well-defined issues
  • Coaching more often a paid arrangement

Or not, depending on context!

Credit Source:
David Clutterbuck (United Kingdom)
David specialises in supporting organisations in developing mentoring and coaching programmes, and in establishing sustainable mentoring and coaching cultures. Everything he do revolves around helping people and organisations harness the power of dialogue.
Specialties:Coaching, mentoring, Top team development, Board development. Public speaker and presenter, internationally

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