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

coaching mentoring counsel etc

“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

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 organization, your career or your whole life.


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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 its 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 Coaching Mentoring Counselling Managing
Focus 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
Context 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
Orientation discussion probing application discussion skill transfer
Number ten to fifteen one-on-one to one-on-eight one-on-one to one-on-three one-on-one 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 counsellor the manager’s authority & skill
Content 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 goal is collective performance improvement intentional growth investment personal well-being job skill development task efficiency
Progress 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
Method community (Heart and Mind) question and probing (will and mind) direction and leadership (heart, will and mind) Different counsellors will place varying levels of emphasis on behaviour, on thinking and/or on emotional aspects. motivation  and management (mind)
Purpose 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. I typically 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.

Extract from John’s bestselling Leadership Coaching Field Guide: “What’s Better Today?” How to Grow and Learn into the Leader You Can Be. Buy your copy now online at http://leadershipadvantedge.com/wbtbook-buy/

Professional Leadership Caddy

I help people unlock their talent, unstuck their potential and unleash their own (and their team's) performance through behavioural neuroscience based coaching and mentoring.

Most whip smart independent contributors, technical specialists and managers get frustrated trying to be heard and understood by their business leaders and they lack enough time and inclination to develop the skills they need to move into management and leadership positions.

Proven systems. A personal coach and mentor.

I combine time-tested systems, behavioural neuroscience and psychology research and practical tools with the accountability and guidance of a 1:1 coach and mentor to UnLock your Talent, UnStuck Your Potential and UnLeash Your Performance.

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