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Time to get off your high horse about coaches and mentors

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Yesterday I was invited to a Twitter debate about the difference between coaching and mentoring. One coach came back saying:

This got me thinking about a number of Facebook posts I’ve seen recently with coaches bashing other coaching because they’re supposedly not labelling themselves correctly and are (in the opinion of the basher) actually consultants or mentors, not coaches as they claim.

Combining skills and modalities

I have to say, these kinds of posts gets me a bit riled up. I’ve worked with 50+ coaches over the past 16 months and many of them would say they’ve been taught that coaching is based on the understanding that all the answers we seek are already within ourselves. The premise is that coaching, in its purest sense, is solely about asking questions to draw out the answers from within the client. Hence why some coaches seem to get on their high horse when others incorporate elements of say, teaching.

I think when you’re working on developing people it’s really hard not to combine a number of elements – you bring all your skills and experience to the table in whatever form is needed in that moment. It’s a different context but back when I was a manager my role involved elements of teaching, coaching and mentoring. I don’t think it’s really that different when many “coaches” work with their clients though. An element of my role back then was practical management and teaching to get team members up to speed with the task-based aspects of their job. Once this was done, coaching and mentoring took more of a front seat to get employees to bring their best game to their role. Indeed, coaching was at the forefront in the circumstances where my team were more technically skilled at their craft than I.

So my response on Twitter was:

Don’t coaches teach?

The life coaches I’m aware of do certainly ask many questions to help clients come to the conclusions they seek. However I believe the vast majority also teach techniques to clients; for example, to become more aware of the answers inside or to handle the awareness of those answers and associated emotions. Business coaches certainly teach practical strategies to their clients.

I don’t think it’s so easy to differentiate many coaches, mentors or consultants from each other. I believe that most of the coaches, consultants and mentors I have worked with offer a combination of techniques and if you were a fly on the wall during their sessions it’s likely you’d find that the balance of each aspect would vary from client to client.

Certainly my own longest experience of being coached was within sports in my youth and I can say for sure I did not learn how to do a back flip or a toe-salchow because my coach asked me to look for the answers within myself. I was taught the skill through progressions and coached along the way to improve my technique or to reduce my fear of completing the move (or rather, not completing the move and landing on my head). They also mentored me to keep going when the going got tough.

I think my point is, who are we to decide which category someone falls into? Of course, I’m not advocating misleading people or making out that you’re something that you’re not but one very successful business coach I read about recently said that he had never labelled himself as a coach. That was, however, until he realised that all his clients referred to him as their business coach so he changed his title to make the “design” match actual user experience. If someone got up and started bashing him for calling himself a coach, his clients would surely jump to his defence. So, doesn’t that mean it’s all perception anyway? (Which is the only thing that creates our reality, right?)

If you Google the difference between coaching and mentoring you’ll find oodles of different answers from various organisations and of course, you’ll make your own mind up about it all. I thought it was interesting though, looking up the dictionary descriptions of coaching and mentoring.

Dictionary definitions of coach and mentor

These are the definitions from Merriam Webster:


~ a private tutor
~ one who instructs or trains


~ a trusted counselor or guide (a mentor who, because he is detached and disinterested, can hold up a mirror to us —P. W. Keve)

~ tutor, coach

Who cares about titles?

Anyway shouldn’t we be celebrating the results (developmental, financial or circumstantial) that we and our colleagues are achieving with their clients rather than worrying about the title they actually use to refer to themselves? What about the people who coach all day long but never ever use that word and instead refer to themselves as some other kind of expert?

Overall I think we need to remember we’re all just doing the best we can. Let’s lift each other up. Put your opinions across in a constructive way if you feel it would benefit the recipient but we need to stop the bashing to other people. Does it really matter to you what title people use, if they are getting clients the outcomes they want? If you frequently find yourself criticising and condemning others I’d recommend you have a read of How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts – how do you refer to yourself and do you feel you offer an holistic approach that combines a number of modalities? I’d love to hear your thoughts and whether this is something you’ve experienced in the industry.

And if you’re a new coach (or new to the online world) and confused about exactly how to bundle up your services or being visible online is freaking you out, then we need to have a little chat! My programme Concept to Clients is designed to walk you through the process of creating your 1-1 coaching programme or online course including all the tech elements and some mentoring (of course!) to support you in conquering the mindset gremlins that come with become visible online. Have a read through what it’s all about here and then book yourself in so we can see how best to tailor things for you.







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