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3 March 2022
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What is the difference between coaching and mentoring?

Coaching and mentoring are both confidential developmental processes between a Client and a qualified Coach or Mentor, which take place as a series of conversations. They may be short term relationships over a few months, or longer term over a period of years.

Good practice states that both of these approaches should involve an explicit ‘contract’, and the use of measurable goals (objectives) which provide a frame for the conversations and the relationship. Both approaches may include specific skills development, and all are based on objectivity, independence, accountability, and support.

Mentors, like coaches, benefit from specific training and accreditation to optimise their professional practice. The European Mentoring and Coaching Council’s European Individual Accreditation (EIA) award demonstrates that an individual coach or mentor has an appropriate level of knowledge and the ability to apply it effectively in their practice. As a coach or mentor becomes more expert, the level of competence expected of them increases: from Foundation, Practitioner, Senior Practitioner to Master Practitioner.

The coaching and mentoring professional body, the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC), defines mentoring as:[1]

“Mentoring is a learning relationship, involving the sharing of skills, knowledge, and expertise between a mentor and mentee through developmental conversations, experience sharing, and role modelling. The relationship may cover a wide variety of contexts and is an inclusive two-way partnership for mutual learning that values differences.”

I find it easiest to consider coaching and mentoring as using a set of skills existing on a spectrum. Coaching involves more ‘pull’ (the coach pulls the knowledge out from the client using facilitation skills), and mentoring involves more ‘push’ (the mentor pushes knowledge into the client drawn from their own technical knowledge and skill - ie teaches or scaffolds the client’s skill development – this never means being didactic or telling the client what to do, however).

In reality, a skilled mentor will also be trained in using coaching skills. A skilled coach may or may not be a mentor also, depending on whether they share a similar professional background and level of experience to the client or not.

If you are looking for expert help to enable you to maximise your potential as a leader, and to teach you specific technical leadership skills, you may wish to choose an accredited coach who is also a mentor. If you want a skilled coach to provide you with a thinking space to enable you to come up with your own solutions, then a coach who practices at a non-directive/coaching end of the spectrum would be an option to consider. If you're looking for someone to help you with significant career decisions, you need an expert medical career counsellor - which will be covered in a future blog.

Dr Fiona Day is an FMLM associate member, an executive coach with the FMLM Coaching Network and former consultant in public health medicine and NHS Board member.


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Fiona Day

Dr Fiona Day (MBChB, FFPH, CPsychol) is a Consultant Coaching Psychologist and former Board-level medical & public health leader. She is the UK’s leading Coach and Coaching Psychologist for senior doctors, medical and public health leaders, and is uniquely able to help you to flourish personally and professionally.


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