What’s the difference between a coach and mentor?

Do you know the difference between a coach and a mentor?

If not, that’s okay. This post will keep it simple and make things clear for you.

Knowing the difference between the two can save you a lot of time and effort in your decision-making. You might be working with a mentor and not even know it. You might be paying for a coach and not even need it.

I searched the web and discovered many different descriptions, definitions and explanations between coaching and mentoring. There are many overlaps in the skills that coaches and mentors use. The simplest distinction that I have found between the two is experience and advice.

Since I’m in China I always wonder what the difference might be in Chinese words as well. I’ve included them in this post.

What is a mentor?

Mentor = 导师(dao3shi1)

The Chinese word for mentor defines it well. Mentor” implies advising and directing actions.

A mentor is a trusted advisor with experience that aligns with the path their mentee is seeking to pursue. A good mentor has the ability to see the potential that you have, the path that is in front of you and provide guidance on how to navigate that course.

It is still up to the mentee to decide what action to take, but the mentor serves as a wise sounding board. A mentor will probably use coaching skills bring out the best in their mentee.

Quotes help illustrate and articulate the definition:

“One of the greatest values of mentors is the ability to see ahead what others cannot see and to help them navigate a course to their destination.” ~John C. Maxwell

“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” ~Bob Proctor

“The delicate balance of mentoring someone is not creating them in your own image, but giving them the opportunity to create themselves.” ~ Steven Spielberg

What is a coach?

Coach = 教练 (jiao4lian4)

In mandarin the word for coach still relates to sports and physical training. Many professional coaches are adding prefixes to the word in Chinese. For example, Life coach is 生活教练 (shenghuojiaolian) which literally is life-coach. I feel that a better way of describing is coach is closer to “facilitator(主持人 = zhu3chi2ren2).”

A coach is a facilitator that helps takes you through the process of seeing what you cannot see. Then the coach will guide you through the steps of defining actions and taking actions needed to achieve your aim. A coach uses powerful questions, active listening, direct communication and accountability to facilitate you.

Yep! A few more quotes to solidify:

“I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable.” ~John Russell

“Probably my best quality as a coach is that I ask a lot of challenging questions and let the person come up with the answer.” ~Phil Dixon

“A good coach will make his players see what they can be rather than what they are.” ~Ara Parasheghian

“You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them, but by building a fire within.” ~Bob Nelson

The key difference

The key difference between a coach and a mentor is experience and relationship. A mentor has been down the path that you are on and will be invested in seeing you discover your own parallel path. A coach excellent at helping you get unstuck in a particular situation, define your direction and take the first steps to get moving.

Are they interchangeable?

A mentor can take the role of a coach, but a coach may not always be a mentor.

Your turn

Can you be coached or mentored through a book or video?

Are there any Chinese quotes about the difference between a coach and a mentor? I’m curious to find some.

How have you leveraged a coach or mentor in the past?

Also, if you disagree with the way I’ve describe things here then please let me know. I’m open to a discussion. The more we dialogue the better our understanding.


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