The difference between coaching and mentoring

Here's how to choose which tool is right for you and the four powerful things that underpin coaching.

The difference between coaching and mentoring is something I get asked about a lot.

The short answer is that mentoring is about telling someone what to do.

Coaching is creating a space for someone to come to their own conclusion.

Which tool you choose to develop or seek out comes down to personal choice, the skillset you have and want to have, and whether you want to help someone improve their performance—coaching—or development (mentoring.)

To break it down a bit more, being mentored is about finding someone who has the results that you want so they can give you the guidance to copy exactly what they’ve done.

When I wanted to learn the skill of public speaking I found someone I admired in the field and made it my mission to model them. I listened to what they had to say about how to move, what to do, what not to do.

That’s mentoring. Getting advice from someone who has the skills you want. It can be applied to anything: Italian cooking, playing the piano, learning to drive a car. And yes, becoming a coach.

Coaching comes from the fundamental idea that the client has everything they need within them already. They have the emotions and skills they need, they just don’t know how to access them. So the coach’s role is to create a safe space for the client to have their own understanding, their own unpacking.

A person being mentored has no idea what the answer is and needs to be told by the mentor what to do.

Contrary to what a lot of people believe, coaches don’t give clients personal advice. You don’t go to see a relationship coach and they say, ‘This is what I did, and this is what I recommend you should do’.

That’s not coaching. That’s just giving people advice.

Coaching is about understanding human behaviour.

Understanding the patterns of our minds and the world of our emotions. Both of those impact massively on our self-esteem and ability to communicate with ourselves, and our ability to have a lasting relationship with others personally and in business, so it applies through so many areas in life.

The difference between coaching and mentoring involves the four powerful things that make up coaching:

  • Creating a space to listen to your client. It always amazes me how many people have never felt truly listened to. We all have a need to belong and that comes from feeling like we are heard and understood.
  • Validation. A lot of people live in what is called a validation vacuum. They never encouragement or validation, never hear the words, ‘You’re okay, you’re doing great, gee that would have been a real struggle for you.’
  • Coaching is about asking the questions and the power of asking questions. This is probably the most important part, to allow the client to come up with their own answers, to ask clarifying questions—really deep questions that get a phenomenal answer. It’s been said the quality of our life is determined by the quality of the questions we ask ourselves or are asked of us.
  • Teaching. Sometimes when we are with our client we want to educate them on how to access something within themselves: this is how you feel an emotion, this is how you set a boundary in your life or this is how you clear your mind.

If this resonated with you, join me for TCI's live and free interactive masterclass 'Coaching Success' summit on September 26 and 27. Be part of the largest life coaching virtual summit in Australasia in 2020!


One of Australia's leading coaches, trainers and speakers, and head facilitator at The Coaching Institute. In between mentoring thousands of coaches and leaders all around Australasia and helping others build incredible culture, Matt is passionate about fitness and music. His healthy office lunches whipped up in five minutes are the stuff of legend

Matt Lavars life coaching
Matt LavarsThe Coaching Institute