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Mentoring, Coaching and Training – What is the Difference?

Over the years working with clients, I’ve discovered that there is often confusion about what are the differences between mentoring, coaching and training.  We all know that these are ways for an expert or experienced individual to help people do something more effectively.  That’s the similarity.  But the differences…


Mentoring is generally an informal relationship between two people.  A mentor will do many of the same things as a coach or even someone who is a trainer, but there is no formal obligation on the part of either party.  A mentoring relationship often develops gradually from a friendship or a professional association, intensifies as the mentor discovers he has valuable insight and experience to share, and as the person being mentored discovers his desire to learn from the mentor.  The two people will at some point recognize the special nature of their relationship, but may not name it.  And as life circumstances change, the relationship will gradually de-intensify.  It will often turn into a friendship of peers.


In working on this article, I read a number of other articles about the differences between coaching and mentoring.  All of them talk about how a coach does not provide solutions or answers.  I beg to differ.  Think of an athletic coach.  An athletic coach definitely does not simply ask the athlete questions and help them bring out their own solutions to problems.  An athletic coach helps point out problems, makes very definite suggestions, and sometimes even intervenes physically to help the athlete do the right thing.  So what is coaching?  The main difference is in terms of formality.

A coach is a coach from the start of the relationship with the person being coached.  The person being coached has a specific goal to achieve.  It can be long term or short term, but it is specific.  The coach is there to help that person meet their goal.  Once the goal is met, the relationship is re-evaluated.

Here are some of the ways that coaching can happen (actually, mentors do these things too):

  • The Socratic Coach – asks lots of probing questions.
  • The Hands-On Coach – shows people a way to solve a problem, but leaves it to the individual to mimic or do something different.
  • The Intervention Coach – mostly observes and at key moments intervenes to help an individual choose a specific path of action.
  • The Guiding Coach – provides constant (usually gentle) reminders to help an individual keep withing a specific path of action (guide rails).


Classroom training is the type of training we most often think of, but it is not the only kind.  There is also on-the-job training and of course all sorts of e-learning methods of training.  Training is very formal, should have well-defined learning objectives, and is often relatively brief as compared to coaching or mentoring.

Training can also include many of the types of interaction that are found in a coaching environment, but there is a very strong focus on the trainer being a subject matter expert.  The trainer has extensive experience or knowledge in the subject that is being delivered in the training.  It is expected that the participants in the training learn from the trainer – there is knowledge transfer.  How this happens can be very flexible, of course, and good training is never just a speaker standing at the front of the room and lecturing for the whole time.  Discussion, simulations, case studies, and other forms of interaction are critical for an effective training experience.

Some other links:

Workplace Coaching and Mentoring – Some Key Differences to Maximize Personal Development

Coaching is Not Mentoring, Training or Counselling

What are the Similarities and Differences Between Coaching and Other Things?

Are You Coaching Mentoring or Training Your New Employees?  Distinctions New Managers Need to Know.

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9 thoughts on “Mentoring, Coaching and Training – What is the Difference?”

  1. Pingback: coaching training
  2. some people consider counseling the same as mentoring. Others consider mentoring can be done by simple training while counseling (even para-counseling) can’t be done by simple taylored training. What is your opinion?

  3. It’s a fair and straightforward article. Though…there is a small difference in terms you’re using here: coaching in sports as you present it in the example it can be considered as a training for instance. Do not mistake “coach” title in sports with “coaching” as a development activity.

    1. Hi Dan, Thanks for your comment. I agree that it is a bit simplistic and there are some differences that deserve more depth of analysis and discussion. That said, all three: mentoring, coaching and training are development activities. In recent years, I’ve come to see some important differences that are not explained in this article. For example, there is a “control” question: who controls the agenda of the development. In most training, the trainer controls the agenda. In mentoring, there is a shift in control away from the expert, but the expert still has some sway over the agenda. In (professional) coaching, the coach has very little control over the agenda and the person being coach drives the development activity. In sports coaching, just like in Agile coaching, the person coaching is actually doing training, mentoring and (professional) coaching depending on the circumstances and the relationships at play.

  4. I agree with your definition. I would add a small nuance.

    Mentor is someone who has “been there, done that.” At the moment of mentoring mentor brings the knowledge and experience.

    Coach need not be better than the player; but can bring better performance from the player. Coach sets the standard.

    Trainer/Teacher is clearly a subject matter expert better than the trainee at the time of the training. This role has combination of mentoring and coaching but the real difference is the short term, fixed timebox, and broader nature of content.

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