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Coaching Versus Mentoring: What’s the Difference by Tony Stoltzfus

Jan 14th, 2013 | By | Category: Featured Content, Transformational Coaching

       Coaching and mentoring are one-on-one relationships that use support, encouragement and accountability to grow people toward a better future. A mentor is a more senior individual who imparts wisdom, opportunities and counsel to a more junior person. A coach draws out the abilities in someone else. A mentor exercises some degree of authority in a vertical relationship, while coaching is more of a partnership based on influence.

      Here’s an example of the difference. A leader has a job opportunity that would move his career forward but requires relocating across the country and leaving friends and family behind.  Notice how the mentoring approach imparts wisdom from experience, while the coaching approach uses questions that draw insight from the leader himself:

The Mentoring Approach

     “That sounds like a great opening! It must be rewarding to be recognized like this.”

     “Yeah, it sure is!”

     “I had a couple of opportunities like this back when I was a youth pastor. One was a great move; the other was sort of a disaster.”

     “What was the difference?”

    “One position was in a college town with a lot of people in our age group. My wife thrived on the fellowship, and she loved the cultural opportunities in the city.

      “Then we moved to a country church in Nebraska. People were spread out all over. They’d offered me 40% more than what I’d been making, plus the senior pastor role, which was a big step up. But my wife never felt like she fit in; she had a hard time making friends, and it was tough on her and on our marriage. In retrospect, she didn’t really want go, but she was deferring to me. I didn’t tune into what my wife was saying, and that was a mistake. What is your wife saying about this decision?”

The Coaching Approach

     “That sounds like a great opportunity! It must be rewarding to be recognized like this.

     “Yeah, it sure is.”

     “How would this move change your life?”

      “Well, probably the biggest difference is going to be the relationship with my parents. We’ll miss going over for Sunday dinner, and the free babysitting. Vacations and dates will be a lot tougher. Oh—mom and dad are going to really miss doing the grandparent thing. I better talk this through with them.”

     “Is that a step you want to take?”

     “Yes. I’ll do that this Sunday.”

     “How else will this affect your relational life?”

      “We’ll be able to make new friends eventually. It’ll be harder for Patrice, because I’ll be spending a lot of time at the church while she is stuck at home with the kids. Her mom’s group is a big deal for her. We better talk that one over, too. I can check and see if the new church has a mom’s support group or something like it…”

         In the first example, the mentor is showing the younger pastor the ropes and giving wise counsel gained from life experience, while the coach in the second example is building his client’s decision-making ability by asking him to think things through in a structured way. When I’m mentoring, I’m teaching a person, letting him draw from me or learn from my experience. When I’m coaching, I’m pushing a person to draw from his or her own resources and experiences. Coaching is helping people learn instead of teaching them.

Tony Stoltzfus is an author, leadership coach and master coach trainer. For more information on this subject check out Tony’s best-selling coaching book, Leadership Coaching.


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