The ONE Key Difference Between Coaching & Mentoring

By Jonathan Reitz

April 6, 2015

It’s always amusing when I hear someone say “I need a coach”, and then a few minutes later they say “I need a mentor.”

So which is it?

Coach?  Or Mentor?Coaches and mentors have the same goal: both want to see the client make progress toward their vision.

Don’t miss this. To be effective with a coach or a mentor, YOU’VE got to have a vision.

Your vision might be big or small.

It might be long-term or short-term.

You could take on something you want to do by yourself or something that takes a team.

Every one of these options can be handled by BOTH coaching and mentoring, but you've got to know where you want it to take you.

There is a direct connection between clarity and progress. Like the old song says, "If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there!"

Coaching and mentoring are intentional relationships.  This intention defines how the coach/mentor interacts with the client, specifically on how the client’s next step gets chosen.

Here's the ONE Key difference:  A mentor will offer you advice or guidance and a coach probably won't.

A mentor will tell you about things they’ve experienced and unpack how those things might apply to your life. A mentor will try to replicate skills in you that they have already learned. It’s almost like they are cloning a small part of who they are–and how they are–in you.

A coach really won’t do any of those things. A coach will draw out of you what you know was inside of yourself but maybe are hesitant to talk about. The coach will ask you a lot of questions, and will wait patiently while you answer them–even if it takes three or four tries. Coaches will help you connect the dots inside of your head, and then choose what action you want to take.

An effective coach will even help you evaluate and apply the things you’re learning about yourself. There’s no advice or guidance in coaching…unless the coach is switching between coaching and mentoring (which happens all the time, despite what coaches will tell you!)

Someone who has both coaching and mentoring skills will teach you something when teaching is most effective. But they’ll also step back and emphasize listening to help you make the connections or discoveries you need to make when that’s the most appropriate strategy. Sometimes they’ll pour in and sometimes they’ll draw out.

In every situation, they should journey with you to wherever it is your vision is calling you. You supply the vision. They supply the support.

If you’re looking for someone to speak into your life or to help you make sense of what’s going on in your life, the first step is to get clear on the vision you’re pursuing. Where are you going? The next step is deciding if you want a coach or a mentor. Maybe both sets of skills have valuable things to add to your effectiveness.

This is when you need a mentor. Church planters are often greatly blessed by being mentored by someone who has been there and done that. But…

  • Sometimes you need someone who has been there and done that.
  • Sometimes you need someone who has the kind of experience that you’re looking for.
  • Sometimes you need to just be with someone who’s done nothing you’re trying to accomplish yourself.

There are other times are when coaching is most effective. Any startup environment can be enhanced with the presence of an effective coach. You’re often building the plane as you fly it, so a relationship that adds perspective is key.

  • Other times you’re blazing new trails, or going somewhere where no one has gone before.
  • Other times the most helpful thing is to have someone who can just help you make sense of all the crazy thoughts running through your mind.
  • Other times it’s most useful to be able to push pause with someone and try to figure out what’s actually going on.

So, what’s your vision? And what kind of intentional relationship would be most helpful? I’d love to hear what you’re taking on. Hit me up in the comments below.

 This post appeared originally on   For more from Jonathan Reitz, please click here.

Jonathan ReitzJonathan Reitz has a number of impressive titles at CoachNet Global (Chairman/CEO/Guy with Coffee).  Jonathan has been coaching for over 10 years and has worked with over 500 clients in the church, the non-profit sector and the business world. 

  “Coaching plays a part in the kind of leadership the world needs,” says Jonathan Reitz.  “I want to be a part of that.”

For a daily coaching question from Jonathan Reitz, follow him on Twitter @jonathanreitz  Or, you can email him at or by phone at 440.550.4374.

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