On the difference between Mentoring and Coaching

Although the terms are used almost synonymously in many leadership formation environments, I see some important differences between them. These are outlined in the table below.

Mentor Coach
Focus On the individual as a whole person Usually on a specific leadership skill
Role Facilitating growth toward agreed objectives Imparting skills to develop specific capacities
Relationship Usually one to one with high trust level Often one to many respect for capacity of the coach
Process Listening, mutual discernment, reflection, empowering Imparting, training, correction, practice.


When might we use a coaching model in mentoring?

When a mentoree is operating with a relatively high level of ability but needs to acquire specific skills to deal more effectively with a life, leadership or ministry situation.

When the mentoree has given permission to be tough and has agreed to do the hard work of learning and embedding a new leadership skill.

How does coaching work?

Coaching moves through 3 stages.

1.  Recognition of deficiency and motivation to change.  This is the move from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence.  When we get to “I need to change and I know what I need to learn”.  We are ready to go.

2.  Identifying and learning the skill set.  This is breaking the skills down into learnable components.  Then they are practiced intentionally, usually in artificial environments till they are ready to be used.  This is the central shift from conscious incompetence to conscious competence.  Here we have explanation, modelling, training, practice, practice, fine tuning, practice and practice.

3.  Embedding the skill as a natural and normal part of leadership.  Once learnt, used and normalised the skill is embedded in the repertoire of leadership.  This is the final shift from conscious competence to unconscious competence.  We just do it, now without thinking!

In mentoring it is worth knowing how to coach and using this skill as it is needed in the equipping relationship.

Outline of a typical mentoring session

There are several important sections in a typical mentoring session.  I am assuming here that the four foundational processes of formation have been completed and mentoring has moved into the leadership / ministry formation stage.

1.  Connecting, pastoral support

This is the opportunity for an important update of your mentoree’s life story. It is a chance for you to get a broad feel for what is happening in your mentoree’s life. Don’t structure this part too highly. It is an important time for your mentoree to raise anything that they would like to process. Be careful not to let this session take over the whole mentoring time.  I usually give this around 20-30 minutes. 

Common Questions:
How are you travelling?  How is N the child of God, father, husband, pastor, gardener, golfer, householder? Share with me the 3 blessings you are most grateful for in the last month. What have been your three greatest burdens? What incidents, relationships, TV programs, books, remarks have had more than just a passing impact on you over the last month? Is there anything ‘out of left field’ that we need to talk about in this session?

2.  Accountabilities

This section needs to follow the pastoral time. A mentoree does not normally settle in the session until the agreed and known hard questions are asked. This needs to be structured but facilitated in a caring and supportive manner.

Common Questions:
How did you go with the number of nights home with your family this month?  Lets have a look at the accountability we put in place in relation to …. ?  You committed to meet with … How did it go?  I promised last session that I would ask you about your progress with …?

3.  Work on agreed objectives and action points

This is the central section of mentoring and should be well planned and prepared.  Look at each of the objective in turn and the action points that might have arisen in the last session.  Is there progress?  New learning?  Is there further insight into the dynamics at play in each of the areas.  Prepare questions, resources, exercises, discussion, action points for each objective for this session.  Work together to agree to some practical and achievable action points that the mentoree commits to follow up before the next session. 

Common Questions and Processes
Lets have a look at each of the objectives….. What have you been learning about in relation to ……  Have you gained any insight into……   I have been reflecting on your objective of ……  I have prepared an exercise in relation to…..  In thinking about your objective of ….., I came across this article which I think might take us forward. Are there any commitments that you believe you should make out of today’s session.  How do you feel about committing yourself to complete this by our next session? 
How seriously do you need to take this situation and act on it? How can I assist you meet your commitments?

4  Conclusion

Revisit any major items shared in the pastoral connection time.
Affirm progress made on accountabilities and objectives.
Remind mentoree of any commitments that you will follow up next session.
Take a few moments to summarise and reflect

Questions / Comments
Let me just recap the journey of the last hour or so….. 
Lets just sit quietly for a moment. What has happened for you in the last 2 hours? What is something you are taking away from this session together? 
Let’s just go over our commitments to each other for the next session.

5. Arrange and confirm the next session.