Off Canvas




Differences between coaches and mentors

Although the concepts of mentoring and coaching are similar, they are not the same. If both are meant to support the advancement and development of people in some field of their lives, there are some differences between the role of a mentor and that of a coach. Specifically, mentors build a long-term relationship with their mentees, in which, through their experience and wisdom, support the mentees’ development. The main difference with a coach’s work, is that the relationship of the last with the coachee normally has a determined duration, and is based on the observation and advices on behaviours that should be changed, eliminated or strengthen to reach the coachee’s goal or desired advancement (Reh, 2019).

Still, the mentor can sometimes adopt some tasks and approaches of a coach, if it is the case to do it. Therefore, when in this methodology we talk about mentors, mentees and mentoring, we will be actually talking about a combination of these with coaches, coachees and coaching, respectively, as it is the actual approach of the project, which sees WECoaches with a combination of features belonging to mentoring.

In the next pages we will explore what it means to be a Coach and what means to be a mentor, which are their roles, their characteristics and their responsibilities or the expectations upon them. At the end of this section, a definition of WECoaches will be provided, together with the expected learning outcomes from the coaching/mentoring activity.

Functions and tasks of mentors and coaches

As previously introduced, even if sometimes the terms mentor and coach are used as synonymous, they don’t have the same meaning. A mentor is someone who uses his/her experience, wisdom and skills to guide a mentee (or more) in one or more fields of their lives. They can prepare the mentees for improving their performance in personal or professional life or developing the necessary skills for the mentees to achieve career and/or life goals, giving them the clues to overcome challenges and, especially, to become more and more independent. The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines it as “a trusted counselor or guide”, but the definition can be largely extended, as the roles of a mentor are numerous: guide, counselor, coach, advisor, teacher, sponsor, supporter, role model, even friend. These roles are performed by mentors while they fulfill two types of functions: career functions and psychosocial functions (LEGME, 2013; Johnson & Ridley, 2004).

Career functions are, for example, sponsoring the mentee for a new position or to reach their ambition, coaching them through advising and counseling when facing new tasks, assessing the interests and abilities of the mentee in a determined career path, helping mentees setting goals (both short- and long-term), etc.

Career functions can be complemented with psychosocial functions if the mentor understands that the mentee’s emotional and/or personal development needs attention. The mentor can intervene by giving much affirmation, with emotional support, showing confidence and trust in the mentee’s capabilities, encouraging the mentee to pursuit their dreams from a realistic perspective, and even engaging in friendship.

Whereas knowledge can be learned, having a good attitude is essential for the application of that knowledge for the benefit of the mentee. The right combination of those two elements results in a blend of skills used by the mentor to fulfill their functions. The mentor needs to know and recognise where each element is needed or appropriate.

As already said in the introduction, a coach’s concrete functions differ from the ones of mentors in some points. The primary responsibility of coaches is to help the coachees to achieve their potential in any area in which they may need improvement through motivation. To do this, a coach observes the coachee’s concrete behaviours and actions, identifying which of these are preventing the coachee to achieve their goal or to reach their potential and helping them to change or improve them. Therefore, while the main function of a mentor is to guide, the one of a coach is to motivate. Moreover, coaches work on concrete goals, while mentors are a kind of pathway fellows. For this, mentors ideally have experience in the same field of their mentees, while coaches don’t necessarily. These differences make them to adopt different approaches in tasks that might seem similar. For example, while a coach sets goals together with the coachee, a mentor helps the mentee to discover which are their own goals.

Nevertheless, the tasks and roles of both can be similar and interchangeable, depending on the situation. In this case, as we’ll see later, the WECAN approach includes also elements of mentoring, which makes it closer to the needs and expectations of the potential coachees/mentees.

What are the tasks of a coach? What are the tasks of a mentor?

For this reason, it is interesting to understand which are their tasks, both for coaches and mentors, since they have - to a certain extension, some overlapping tasks, whilst each role has its own features.

Some of the tasks that mentors should accomplish for the mentorship to succeed are (Johnson & Ridley, 2004):

  • Getting to know the mentee, observing and listening to apprehend which are their talents, vulnerabilities, strengths and weaknesses.
  • Expressing those elements to the mentee: it is important to let them know their own talents and strengths, as sometimes people are not aware or certain about themselves. External affirmation, especially when coming from the perspective of the mentor, is always beneficial for one’s self-esteem and self-confidence, which are essential for motivation and determination to improve or try new things. In the other hand, also vulnerabilities, weaknesses and fears have to be considered. It is a responsibility of the mentor to see them as real, but no insurmountable, and it is important to transmit this point of view to the mentee.
  • Instilling self-confidence to help mentees when self-doubt appears. If the mentor believes in the mentee and their potential, the mentee will be more prone to believe in themselves too.
  • Helping the mentee to set goals and to discern the steps and changes needed to achieve those goals, from an optimistic but also realistic point of view. Practicing constructive criticism and realistic affirmation when failure occurs.
  • Giving direct information and instruction about the must-know of the mentee’s vocation. Intentionally demonstrating and explaining complex professional skills to the mentee.
  • Motivating, encouraging and supporting the mentee in their ideas and aspirations, being clear when those are unrealistic.
  • Providing knowledge through recommendations; coaching by offering consultation and advise.
  • Having high expectations on the mentee and making it visible. The mentor themselves should be a model of what is expected from the mentee.
  • Challenging the mentee: putting some challenges in the way of the mentee, for example by giving them challenging assignments, are really useful as it stretches the mentee beyond their comfort zone. Through challenge, the mentee can learn how to manage anxiety. It can also boost their curiosity, creativity and problem-solving and innovation abilities.
  • Building a relationship of trust through respect, mutuality and self-disclosure and confidentiality.
  • Seizing opportunities for informally transferring knowledge through story-telling. Mentors can use examples of their own experience to train the mentees on how to face some situations, improving some aspects or solving some problems, always from an instructive and modest point of view. It also contributes in the building of a relationship based on trust, respect, and empathy. However, this kind of training is a complement, not the principal one in the mentorship.
  • Gradually decreasing the amount of direct teaching as the mentee develops. Mentee’s independence and autonomy in accomplishing their vocation is one of the objectives of mentorship.
  • Sponsoring the mentee providing opportunities for them to get valuable contacts or networking.

The role of the coach – especially in the work field – is not sometimes so much highlighted. However, the most common roles identified (Lang, 2019) are the following:

  • S/he is a leader, providing support and guidance to the coachee: as we’ve seen also in the case of the mentor, coach needs to have a strong leadership to allow to build a supporting relation with the individual they work with and be trustable enough to provide the necessary information to enhance the professional – and personal – growth of the coachee.
  • Keep motivation high: motivate people is one of the key assets of coaching. Sometimes, a motivational support on a dream/project/desire/intention of someone can be crucial to help someone else making the right step towards their objective.
  • Listening to the desires, expectations and concrete perspectives of their coachees: being a coach is not a unidirectional relation. If a coach can give suggestions and keep high the motivation, he or she needs to actively listen to their coachees. It is important to listen, especially if a coach wants to create a learning path which can fit perfectly with the learning needs of the coachee.
  • Work with the specific person to detect his/her own goal – professional in our case. It is important to work closely with someone in order to allow the coach to identify the goal for a specific person, which can be the right choice depending on their personal and individual potential to identify their goal.
  • Think out of the box to support the development of new ideas and invite people to walk the roads less travelled by. Thinking out of the box is a necessary tool for creativity and innovation, which are two essential qualities in the world of entrepreneurship. Moreover, it helps the coachee to identify several approaches to achieve her personal goal.
  • Providing constructive feedbacks to support the professional improvement: together with listening and motivating, providing feedbacks is essential to make the coachee achieve that specific goal set together with the coach.

Project Coordinator

Centre d'Information Europe Direct

47, rue du Coq, 13001 Marseille, France
+33 4 91 42 94 75

Charlotte Perault, EU Project Manager

Hélène Seigneur, EU Project Manager

Follow Us

Subscribe to our Newsletter


Copyright © 2023 wecan. All Rights Reserved.


Erasmus+ Programme

Developed and Powered by
Center for Knowledge Management