I received comments on my original blog on this topic that I would like to address to sharpen the focus on the distinctions I am making between the two practices. There are times when mentoring or showing someone the ropes appears to morph into coaching, especially when it takes the form of advocacy or helping the mentee move forward in his/her career. Advocacy is not coaching although it does have a future orientation and may include advising the mentee on what to say or do to move up the ladder in the organization. A coach, on the other hand, is hired to help the client be successful in whatever job they choose to pursue. Helping the client to succeed requires a different set of skills including aiding the client to be more self-aware of their own motivations and the motivations of others and how this knowledge can impact their ability to learn and adapt to change. Coaching is about learning and change, skills that will serve the client well in whatever pursuit they choose.
Another distinction concerns the role of mentor vs. coach in terms of personal loyalty to the mentee or client. Mentors are not only advisers to their mentees but also members of the hierarchy of the organization; in theory there could be a conflict between loyalty to the organization and to the individual he/she is mentoring. I don’t mean to imply that this is often the case, but it is possible. The coach, on the other hand, is there for the client only; professional coaches accredited by organizations such the International Coach Federation must adhere to a strict code of ethics that includes rules governing confidentiality of information. Confidentiality has both an ethical and functional purpose; ethically it protects the client and functionally it opens up the space in which the client is free to think and act, in essence it expands the horizon of possibilities for the client. To return to the original metaphor of the ropes, confidentiality ensures that the client is free to use that rope to take whatever path up the mountain he or she chooses.