A coach is responsible for creating an environment that supports an individual while achieving a specific professional goal. Coaching is essential in early stages of learning and often is an assigned role. For example, you might be coaching several individuals on how to conduct interviews.
In theory, a coaching relationship should be temporary. Just like you don’t remain with your 4th grade teacher year after year after year. You’ll learn the professional goal and move onto the next goal, which may or may not have the same person as a coach. However sometimes, a coach turns into a mentor.
A mentor is responsible for creating an environment that supports an individual’s overall growth. Mentoring is essential in later stages of learning and can never be assigned. This is an advisor relationship that is mutually selected by both parties and built on trust over an extended period of time.
Now I understand this might be just semantics to some but I’ve experienced significant conflict from trying to intermingle these two roles. In fact, I believe one cannot be a mentor to someone without having first been a coach. Yet so often we are assigned people to mentor us for our professional careers. What happens if I don’t like my mentor? What if I need coaching based on the stage of learning I’m currently at and they keep behaving as a mentor and just frustrating me? What happens if my mentee doesn’t engage in the discussions?
These problems occur and people are left feeling at a disadvantage to their peers, e.g. “I wish I had been assigned him as a mentor”. Unfortunately, too often companies minimize the importance of initiative to find your coaches and mentors. I am lucky to have several coaches and a couple of mentors over my career. I am now a coach and a mentor to various people. So I respect how similar yet different the skills and goals are for each role to ever imply they are the same thing. As a coach, I need to know how to help people learn something specific. As a mentor, I need to know how to support people as they learn to grow themselves.
Are you a coach, a mentor or both?