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Coaching versus mentoring: what's the difference?

By Shandel McAuliffe | |6 minute read
Coaching Versus Mentoring What S The Difference

Coaching and mentoring are often confused by those not familiar with them. Lisa Croxford shared with The HR Leader the difference between the two approaches.

Anyone with the right attitude has the potential to be a mentor, but being a good coach requires training and skill.

Ms Croxford, a senior leadership development specialist at Leadership Victoria and executive coach at Adaptive Spaces, kicked off her recent podcast with The HR Leader by explaining how coaching and mentoring differ. She said: "Coaching isn't mentoring. So, it's not advice from a seasoned expert who's been there and done that. And it's also not managing a person. It's not part of managing someone's performance. Something that I often say to folks is that you coach for potential, and you manage performance. So, coaching is about delving into 'what does potential look like for that particular person?'"


Likening being a coach to being an "unreasonable friend", Ms Croxford commented: "I'm not there to be someone's friend. So, the other part of coaching is 'how do you bring tension? How do I work with someone to push them into their learning and their growth edge?' In that way, I'm not a friend. I'm almost someone's unreasonable friend in that I'm really listening carefully to what they're saying and asking questions as part of a structured process to uncover what's most important to them and hold them to account. Great coaching is kind of like the difference between going for a walk in a park with a friend, and having a personal trainer. So, there's a real difference between those two things."

So, if coaching isn't mentoring and it isn't being a friend (a pleasant one, anyway), what is it?

Ms Croxford stated: "In thinking about coaching, in terms of a professional coaching context, it is a relationship between two people, where the coach is working with a person to help them explore the goals that they'd like to achieve, the pathways for achieving them, and what's getting in the way."

Speaking to the central role that asking questions plays in coaching, she said, "What great questions can do, is they change the way you look at things. And when you do that, the things that you look at, change. It changes your perspective. And so, this is kind of the beauty of coaching is it creates a space, a time boundary with a relationship with someone that you trust, but you know is going to push you. And causes you to think about a situation that you're in, or reflect on yourself in a way that sometimes we can just become kind of stuck. We become habituated to our ways of working or our ways of thinking. And coaching is a way to get unstuck from that to surface new perspectives or new ways of seeing the world. Or, just hold the mirror up to the stories that you're telling yourself, or patterns that you've fallen into." 

To learn more about coaching from Ms Croxford, listen to the full audio podcast included below.

The transcript of this podcast episode, when quoted above, was slightly edited for publishing purposes. The full conversation with Lisa Croxford is below.




Coaching differs from training in that it frequently focuses on a narrower range of abilities or jobs. This might be done as a part of personnel upskilling or performance management. Both internal trainers and outside coaches may carry out this task. Coaching occasionally includes assessments and performance feedback.


Mentoring pairs up less experienced workers with more seasoned ones to provide coaching, training, and development. This can be done informally or formally, with meetings and quantified results.

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel McAuliffe

Shandel has recently returned to Australia after working in the UK for eight years. Shandel's experience in the UK included over three years at the CIPD in their marketing, marcomms and events teams, followed by two plus years with The Adecco Group UK&I in marketing, PR, internal comms and project management. Cementing Shandel's experience in the HR industry, she was the head of content for Cezanne HR, a full-lifecycle HR software solution, for the two years prior to her return to Australia.

Shandel has previous experience as a copy writer, proofreader and copy editor, and a keen interest in HR, leadership and psychology. She's excited to be at the helm of HR Leader as its editor, bringing new and innovative ideas to the publication's audience, drawing on her time overseas and learning from experts closer to home in Australia.

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