What Distinguishes a Mentor from a Coach?

What Distinguishes a Mentor from a Coach?

In order to distinguish the differences between a mentor and a coach, we must first define the context of which a mentor or a coach would be required.  For all intents and purposes, we will focus on the subject of business development for the new entrepreneur.


The biggest obstacles the new entrepreneur will face when launching a new business is a lack of proper guidance and access to resources.  Launching a new business can be a lonely road and without support from someone who’s been down the road before, it could lead to entrepreneurial suicide.   According to this 2013 Forbes article, it gives “5 Reasons Why 8 Out of 10 Businesses Fail” within their first 18 months.  While these points are valid and still relevant, for the new entrepreneur, terms like “market dialogue” and “unique selling proposition” are as foreign as Chinese to a French Bulldog.  For the new entrepreneur, the learning curve can be too big of a burden to bear alone.  Having ambition and drive is not enough to carry the heavy load of starting a new business.  As statistics show, the breaking point happens right around the 18-month mark, either when the entrepreneur loses steam from doing everything him/herself or when money runs out.  In either case, (and in most cases) these things are avoidable.  This is where having support from a third party such as a mentor (or a coach) becomes crucial.


Let’s define the two terms:
Mentor: n. A wise advisor; a teacher
Coach: n. An instructor or trainer

If you’ll notice, there’s a subtle, yet big difference between the two; although, most people would consider they are one and the same, they are not.  There are a few key things that distinguish a mentor from a coach.


4 Key Differences That Distinguish a Mentor from a Coach

There are a number of nuances that differentiate a mentor from a coach.  While the list is extensive, I find these four as the major differentiators.  Each relationship, mentor/mentee or coach/trainee, are beneficial in its own way.  One type of relationship will resonate more with you than the other, and you can decide for yourself which type is best suited for you.

  1. Type of Relationship: Partnership vs. Hierarchical

  • Mentor – In a mentor/mentee relationship, the relationship is a partnership. It’s more loosely defined based on the mentees business and life goals, life circumstances, and his/her overall desire to be successful in all areas of life.  It’s typical that the mentee is usually internally driven and is self motivated to succeed.  In this partnership, there’s a two-way-street style of communication; both parties can openly communicate the problems they each see and discuss possible solutions.  Their communication style is more of a “you can do what I say, if you choose to, but I’d encourage you to do as I did”.   In this sense, the mentor is cultivating personal responsibility and the power of making ones own choices.  As such, the partnership focuses on connecting, deep listening, and making recommendations for the benefit of internal development (self-confidence, facing & over-coming fears, etc.) as well as external outcomes (attaining business goals/milestones, resolving relationship conflicts, etc.).  As the partnership grows and goals evolve, the relationship can also continue.  There is a broad scope of “life areas” the mentor can shed light on as they bring plenty of experience to the table.
  • Coach – In a coach/trainee relationship, it could be seen as a hierarchical type of relationship. Trainees typically are externally driven, and require an external source for motivation (sometimes called a kick in the butt).  In this relationship, the coach has a more streamlined, structured, and strategic approach to their style.  Coaches are singularly focused in that they create a strategic game plan (generally based on a consensus & research data rather than their own experience) to help the trainee achieve a particular goal.  The goal is determined at the start of the relationship and generally remains the main objective throughout the relationship.  The communication style is usually more directed and used in a manner to correct rather than discover.  A coach will evaluate, strategize and give directive instructions to achieve outlined tasks.  In this sense, this relationship is driven by results rather than relationship development.
  1. Real Life Experience

  • Mentor – Mentors filter their leadership through experience and with experience, comes wisdom. They’ve “gone through the fire” so to speak and file their experiences under what “Works” or “Doesn’t Work”.  They build a success file over years of trial and error and this becomes their blueprint.  A mentor’s success file is ever evolving and growing because they are always evolving and growing in their own life/business.  Mentors also focus on their own personal development and are constantly expanding their field of experience.  They believe in the adage, “If I can do it, you can too”.  Mentors offer their experience and successes up like a buffet, choose what you think will work for you and discard the rest.  Mentors tend to share their experiences openly and believe this to be a way to serve and give back.
  • Coach – Coaches filter their leadership through observation and strategies according to the “rules of the game”. Much like a high school basketball coach who may have played basketball in his youth might base his coaching on his own experiences (successful or not), he can strategize based on his observation of the game and because he knows the set rules of the game.  In this way, he instructs by way of gathering data and focusing on improving skills rather than pulling from personal experiences of success.  That’s not to say all coaches do not have personal successes, it’s usually not required for the job as long as they have a proven track record of results.
  1. Time

  • Mentor – The length of time spent with a mentor can vary from months to years to a lifetime. When entering into an agreement with a mentor, there may be an initial agreement of specified timelines to gauge the flow of relationship, but time is flexible.  Mentors are there to guide you along your journey and know that entrepreneurship is a marathon, not a sprint.  Time is required for any relationship to flourish and with time, comes a better understanding what the mentee needs to ensure his/her success.
  • Coach – Time with a coach is usually bundled into “sessions” or “packages” and each session is limited to a specific timeframe and can have an expiration date. The coaching contract can be anywhere from three to six months; usually based on a short-term agreement with a specified start and end date.
  1. Focus

  • Mentor – Mentors, as was mentioned earlier, focus on relationship building along with business and personal development, with an emphasis on the personal. Mentors see things from a very integrated standpoint and see that most obstacles are created by lack of awareness or fear.  Mentors can help mentees, in most cases, overcome their fear by sharing their own experience as well as encouraging the mentee to take a look inward and discover for him/herself a breakthrough that will move them through their fears.  This instills self-confidence and equips the mentee with the tools to handle his/her next obstacle with courage.
  • Coach – A coach’s focus is on creating results without necessarily engaging the trainee on a personal level. Coaches look for the most effective way to handle or solve a problem and are likely to analyze, strategize and ask you to implement the solution in a specific way.
Results are important no matter which one of these two relationships you choose to engage in.  It’s more important to gauge what kind of experience you’d like to have and have a clear idea of your short-term and long-term business goals.

As with any journey in life, you can choose to go at it alone, but it’s much easier and your chances of success greatly increases when you have a friend by your side.

If you are ready to begin your journey as an entrepreneur and having a mentor resonates with you, please click here to fill out our form to be considered for our next mentorship program.

*Author’s Note: Having a mentor or coach does not GUARANTEE your success.  The one element all great success stories have is “work”.  A lot of times, it’s hard work.  Entrepreneurship is not for everyone, but is for anyone who is ready, willing and able to put forth the effort to live his or her dreams.  Wishing you all the best!

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