2 – What’s the difference between Coaching, Mentoring, Counselling and Managing?

difference between coaching, mentoring and counselling

There are painters who transform the sun to a yellow spot, but there are others who transform a yellow spot into the sun”

– Pablo Picasso

What's the difference between coaching, mentoring, counselling, training and managing?

Let’s, however, take a look at the main similarities and differences, as this may be helpful for you in establishing the style you would prefer someone works with you.

There is considerable overlap between these development approaches with each having a performance, direction, support or personal well-being focus in the context of the organisation, your career or your whole life.

Improving performance is largely about developing your job skills (competences). Whilst developing your soft skills (competencies) is better served through direction and support. Developing your character is best served through supporting your development and a focus on your personal well-being.

You will see that there are overlaps indicated in the diagram. Perhaps more so with the growth of ‘life coaching' which has filled a niche in developing you in your life whilst not being therapy or counselling.

What is mentoring?

In spite of it’s origins in Greek culture some 3,000 years ago, mentoring is a buzzword today where life and work is high-tech but not high-touch.

When we use the word “mentoring”, a dozen or more different images race across our minds. It seems that we might not all be on the same page. It will serve us well then, to offer a working definition that brings us all together in our understanding. Here, I have tweaked a definition original from Paul Stanley and Robert Clifton  (Stanley & Clinton, 1992) and later by Dr. Tim Elmore (Elmore, 2011):

Mentoring is a working relational experience through which one person empowers and enables another by sharing their wisdom and resources.

What is coaching?

In the 16th century, the word ‘coach' described a horse-drawn vehicle to take people from where they were to where they wanted to be. In the 20th century, big buses with rows of seats were also called coaches, and their purpose was the same: to get people to where they wanted to go. The word ‘coach' was given athletic meaning around 1880 when it was used to identify the person who tutored university students in their rowing on the Cam river in Cambridge. Later, the word (and role) became associated with musicians, public speakers and actors, who rely on coaches to improve their skills. Don Shula, former coach for the Miami Dolphins wrote about athletes who would come to his team with their skills and talents, ready to submit to the coach whose job was to instruct, discipline, and inspire them to do things better than they thought they could do on their own. Over time, the idea of a coach has not really changed. A coach is a vehicle to take someone from where they are now, to where they want to be. Eric Parsloe, author of “The Manager as Coach and Mentor” (Parsloe, 1999) defines coaching as:

“a process that enables learning and development to occur and thus performance to improve.” 

The table below is an overview of the main differences between the four most common approaches to coaching and how these differ from the manager’s role.

Training / Teaching
receiving instruction and guidance
receiving structured support to find own solutions to issues
giving and receiving direction and evaluating options
psychological well-being
giving instruction and direction
community and the organisation or team
the individual’s job & work
personal development for future career and life
self-understanding to adopt more constructive life practises
tasks to be done within the role and development for career within team
skill transfer
ten to fifteen
one-on-one to one-on-eight
one-on-one to one-on-three
one-on-one to one-on twenty
Value depends on:
attendees learning and transfer
the coach’s skills and the coachee’s motivation
the mentor’s experience and knowledge & willingness to share
the experience and psychological training of the counselor
the manager’s authority & skill
based on the leader
based on needs of the job
based on the needs of the mentee
based on the needs of the client
based on task  needs
goal is collective
performance improvement
intentional growth investment
personal well-being
job skill development task efficiency
often sporadic
depends on motivation
made by pre-determined goals
depends on severity of issues
depends on skills
Level of Accountability
low level
mid to high level
high, intense level
mid level
intense level
community (Heart and Mind)
question and probing (will and mind)
direction and leadership (heart, will and mind)
Different counselors will place varying levels of emphasis on behaviour, on thinking and/or on emotional aspects.
motivation  and management (mind)
to meet and interact and receive knowledge
to improve performance in role
to reach potential in career and life
personal well-being
efficiency and effectiveness within current role.


All of these approaches are processes by which people are taken from where they are (their skills, talents, knowledge, position) to where they want to be. Throughout this book, we refer to the ubiquitous term “coaching” to refer to any non-therapeutic development activity that may cross these boundaries of teaching, coaching, mentoring or counselling.