Coaching and Mentoring – what’s the difference?


I made up with game. It probably isn’t new, but it was new in my head when I made it up.

You make a pack of cards. 18  On each card is the name of a famous person. On the other side is the year they were born. Cover a good span of history with the people you choose. (You can find some good web sites that list famous people and their birth years. )You hand packs out yo competing groups who have to work out the correct order of birth of all the famous people on the cards and lay them out in a line. No peeking at the dates – no turning the cards over. The answers are only revealed at the end.

You can do it as a fun competition with a prize. You can set a time linit if you want.

One group is allocated a coach.

One group is allocated a mentor.

The mentors, like the group they have been assigned, are not allowed at any stage to look at the birth dates on the card. The mentors do not have the answers.  The role of the mentor is to observe and offer feedback and guidance on the process. A hands-off mentor will probably just offer process observation feedback:

“One of you seems to be the leader, and one group member isn’t taking part at all.”

There might be more loaded process observation feedbac:

“You’ve been going for ten minutes and you still haven’t organised the information.”

Or the process observation feedback might be more hands-on:

“Why don’t you stop, regroup, set a time plan, and allocate roles to this task?”

In all cases, the mentor is process focused and doesn’t have the answers. If they DO know an answer, this is coincidental to the task and they might go into coaching mode…

The coaches are allowed to look secretly at the cards (or might be allocated their own set). A hands-off coach might decide to act totaly in mentoring mode if they feel the group doesn’t need help on the answers. A hands-off coach might just give a few clues…

“Are you sure Napoleon was born in that century?”


“Now in which war did Winston Churchill prime minister?”

Or the coach might be more hands-on and say:

“I think that isn’t right”


“You have most of your answers right but three are wrong”

A coach many go into mentoring mode and a mentor may go into coaching mode, but this can cause confusion as the group doesn’t quite understand the role of the person helping them.

Often, playing this game, it is the mentoring group that gets the answers right. I think mentoring helps groups energise themselves. I think a good coach makes occasional use of mentoring, is a nudger, a trusted prodder, an expert advisor with at least some of the necessary knowledge at their fingertips.

A mentor is an expert in processes, is a guide on process, knows how to catalyse knowledge and experience. A good mentor is a coach on process. A good coach is a light-touch mentor on content.

Having said all that, I use an approach that I call mentoring that is really a mix of both.

Details here

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