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Coaching vs Mentoring: Unlocking the Potential of Your Team

Your strength as a leader can be seen in the success of your team members and is directly tied to developing their talent, keeping them motivated, fostering innovation and creativity, and creating a positive work culture.

There are two distinct approaches to developing talent: coaching and mentoring. While often used interchangeably, there are distinct differences. Let’s explore what each one is and how they might benefit your team.


Coaching relationships are created when a team member wants to focus on improving specific skills, overcoming a specific challenge, or achieving specific goals.

It is important for coaches to build rapport and trust so the coachee feels comfortable sharing their thoughts, feelings, and concerns. Coaches must also establish clear expectations for the coaching process and define the boundaries of the relationship. This may include the frequency and length of coaching sessions, expectations around communication, and confidentiality agreements to gather the needed data on strengths, weaknesses, and areas of development.

When an action plan is developed, there should be established timelines and milestones. Accountability is key in a coaching relationship and feedback on how the process is going should be specific and focused on the goals.

As an example, here is how coaching can support a team member struggling with time management. Start with clearly identifying the problem — The team member is not meeting deadlines for projects. With the coachee’s input, you as the coach can help pinpoint specific areas where they can improve such as prioritizing tasks, reducing distractions, or providing tools to manage their schedule more effectively and to stay more organized.

You and the coachee agree on goals and milestones that measure improvements, including scheduled feedback and monitoring sessions.

As the coach, you oversee how they have implemented these suggestions and whether the new tools are effective. Your constructive feedback is vital to keeping the team member on track, motivated, and working to achieve their goals.


Mentoring is a broader approach to talent development and is often tied to long-term career goals and growth. Mentors offer their own experiences and insight into navigating similar challenges as guidance to the mentee. Mentors are there to support and offer advice as opposed to monitoring specific goal achievements.

Successful mentorship relationships should include these 5 areas of support:

  1. Guidance and advice. This relationship should include sharing experiences, providing resources, and brainstorming to help the mentee stay motivated.

  2. Honest feedback on strengths, weaknesses, and areas of development that the mentor and mentee identify together.

  3. Active listening by the mentor. It’s important for the mentee’s concerns, questions, and ideas to be heard and addressed. The conversation should center around the current situation of the mentee.

  4. Challenging and stretching the mentee to help develop skills and capabilities. The mentee should expect to step out of their comfort zone.

  5. Respect, professional boundaries, and confidentiality from both sides of the mentorship relationship

Determining the Right Approach

Both coaching and mentoring are important approaches to talent development but are most effective when applied to the appropriate situation. Here are 4 factors to consider when deciding which approach is best for your team member:

The individual's goals: Are they looking to improve a specific task or are they interested in career development?

The time frame: Coaching relationships are often only for the duration of achieving a specific goal, while mentorship is often long-term and continues while career development happens.

The level of experience: When team members have a solid foundation of knowledge and experience in their field, coaching is most often the right approach. Mentorship requires a greater level of experience and knowledge than the mentee in order to guide them.

The relationship: Coaching relationships are typically more formal with scheduled check-ins, goal-setting dates, and feedback sessions. Mentorships are often more informal and based on mutual respect and trust.

Ultimately, the goal of both coaching and mentoring is to help individuals develop skills and achieve their career goals. By understanding the differences between coaching and mentoring, you can help your team members achieve their full potential.

The Folke Institute is your trusted advisor, mentor, and coach in many areas that will help your organization grow and thrive. Check out the many keynotes, workshops, training, and customized solutions we offer.

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