Mentoring, Counseling, and Coaching: What are The Differences?

Great leaders are constantly on the hunt for effective ways to support their teams. Through approaches like mentoring, counseling, and coaching, you can help improve your team’s performance and boost their productivity. However, what kind of support does your team really need? 

These three terms are often used interchangeably because their approaches tend to overlap. However, it is important to understand the differences between these frameworks and ensure that your leadership style and support is as beneficial to your team members as possible. 

The type of support you provide depends on the characteristics of your team members, how they learn most efficiently, and also, your own strengths and weaknesses. For example, some employees might prefer learning through group coaching, while others will gain more value from individual mentoring relationships.

Your field of work may also have an impact on the type of support you provide. For example, if your employees are experiencing emotional difficulties as a result of their work, they may benefit from mental health counseling. If they require a lot of energy and drive to fulfill their responsibilities, coaching may be the best option. 

Keep in mind that certain credentials, educational backgrounds, and training may also be required to practice these frameworks ethically and legally. 

To help you decide the best approach for your team, let’s explore the key differences between mentoring, counseling, and coaching. 

Related read: 7 Bad Habits That Leaders Should Avoid


What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a process where an experienced professional offers advice and wisdom to their junior employee. Mentors act as advisors, answering questions or concerns of the mentee while also being sources for information in that particular industry they work in.

Although mentors can come in all shapes and sizes, usually they would have some sort of training. A mentor’s expertise might be based on their own knowledge or it could come from the professional activities that they’ve undertaken over time. However, sometimes people without formal education can take up this role because they have enough experience under their belt.

The main purpose of mentoring is to help develop the career path of an individual and help them succeed in their role. If an employee has a mentor to turn to for help, they will be able to complete tasks properly and effectively. Mentor-mentee relationships can evolve into friendships over time, lasting for years. 

In short, mentoring is:

  • Mostly directive (providing advice and guidance based on our own experience)
  • Sometimes non-directive (giving the individual some space to figure things out on their own)
  • Usually proactive in nature
  • Generally, career or role focused
  • Long term

Benefits of mentoring

Mentoring is a powerful way for individuals and professionals to feel supported in their careers. When professionals develop a mentor-mentee relationship, they will generally feel more empowered to take the right steps to achieve their goals. This can inspire the individual to become future mentors themselves after experiencing the benefits first-hand. 

Other benefits of mentoring:

  • Creating a collaborative work environment
  • Boost motivation & productivity
  • Supportive work environment
  • Enhanced skills & career development
  • Improved relationship building


What is counseling?

Counseling is a process of providing emotional support and advice to help individuals overcome different mental health challenges such as; anxiety, depression, or even work-related stress. As experts at practicing empathy, counselors possess the unique ability to understand and respect other people’s perspectives.

They will usually ask specific questions to get an insight into the client’s past or how they feel when faced with certain situations that may be challenging for them emotionally. Additionally, they can also offer advice and share certain techniques that can help individuals deal with the problem at hand or how to cope with certain emotions. However, they will not tell them what to do and will not set a time limit on overcoming challenges — as it varies from one person to another. 

Counselors and their clients typically meet weekly and do breathing exercises, communication exercises, and reflective journaling to help individuals identify and deal with their emotions. 

Since they will typically listen to incredibly private material, counselors should be excellent at maintaining client confidentiality and maintaining a professional relationship with their clients. They should adhere to the medical and ethical norms when it comes to giving mental health therapy and medical diagnostics and should always be professionally trained and accredited by a professional counseling body.

In short, counseling is:

  • Mostly non-directive (ask the right questions and let the individual find their own answers)
  • Sometimes directive (advice and guidance based on professional training)
  • Depending on the issue, can be short term or long term
  • Generally reactive/remedial in nature (triggered by certain problem) but can also be preventative (for the future)
  • The focus is on personal emotions and mental health

Benefits of counseling 

Counseling is frequently sought out after an individual has reached a point of crisis or is struggling to cope with day-to-day life. With a counselor’s help, individuals will be able to gain a better understanding of deep-rooted beliefs and issues, identify their thoughts and feelings, and uncover ways to deal with trauma effectively. 

Other benefits of counseling:

  • Gaining self-acceptance
  • Relief from mental health issues
  • Improving self-esteem
  • Help avoid destructive behaviors and unhealthy coping mechanisms
  • Changing self-defeating behaviors


What is coaching?

Coaching is the process of motivating and inspiring employees to reach their maximum potential. Coaching aims to change people’s way of thinking and behavior in order to improve performance, organizational culture, and relationships. Additionally, coaching is also used to educate employees on skills like communication, leadership, teamwork, and stress management, all of which contribute to overall organizational gains.

To help individuals reach their greatest potential personally and professionally, a coach must be able to comprehend the coachee’s needs. They will usually do this by asking a series of guiding questions and reading the body language and non-verbal cues of the individual. 

The role of a coach is not to be the subject matter expert, but to be the guide in unlocking the individual’s potential — as coaching involves the belief that the individual has the answers to their own problems within them.

Coaching is short-term in nature, as it is only necessary to help individuals achieve certain goals. However, certain individuals can take part in different coaching programs over time to continue to build their skills. 

There are different kinds of activities that are included in the coaching process. These can include:

  • Goal-setting: Coaches will ask individuals to choose and visualize their goals. The goals will need to be specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.
  • Identifying strengths: Coaches frequently try to persuade their clients that they can achieve their goals. By evaluating their skills and talents, team members can gain a better understanding of their capabilities and how to apply them to solve more complex problems.  
  • Tracking progress: Employees can track their progress through evaluations of activities they’ve performed in order to stay motivated and focused on achieving their goal. 
  • Asking and receiving feedback: Feedback is a crucial element of the improvement process. It can help individuals in recognizing and correcting any errors they may have made.

A professional coach should have some kind of formal training and recognition by a professional coaching organization (such as the International Coach Federation, Association for Coaching, or EMCC), and follow a set of ethical criteria.

In short, coaching is:

  • Mostly non-directive (providing space and asking the right questions for the individual to figure things out on their own)
  • Sometimes directive (providing challenges when needed)
  • Can be proactive/preventative depending on the situation
  • Specific and measurable personal or professional goals
  • Can be short-term or long-term depending on the individual’s needs

Related read: 7 Coaching Tips To Boost Employee Engagement

Benefits of coaching

Coaching can lead to greater self-awareness, positive mental health, higher self-confidence, and more effective communication and leadership skills — all of which contribute to the increase of employee engagement, a psychologically safe work environment, and improved work performance.

Visionary leaders and organizations understand the transformational impact of coaching and have now replaced the traditional hierarchical management structures with a coaching management style and coaching culture. By integrating meaning, awareness, and accountability, they successfully spark collaboration and engagement at all levels. 

Individuals can utilize professional coaching to explore multiple approaches to the issues they are facing in a productive and confidential environment. It allows people to come up with realistic ideas and be held accountable for making the necessary changes to attain their objectives.

Working closely with a trained coach will not only help to achieve specific goals in a strategic way, but it will help to uncover the reasons why these goals couldn’t be achieved in the past — all through customized sessions designed for the coachee’s individual needs. 

Other benefits of coaching:

  • Greater sense of self-awareness
  • Improved decision making and strategic skills
  • Self-discovery is explored in-depth
  • Specific measures to track and review progress
  • Gives the individual accountability
  • Increased confidence

Interested to learn more about coaching?

Here at Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching®, we help coaches set themselves apart from the competition using our world-renowned SCC® methodology. Designed by the world’s #1 leadership thinker Marshall Goldsmith, our coaching process can help you deliver measurable results for your coaching clients — providing you with a significant competitive advantage. 

We boast the world’s largest executive coach network with over 4,500 coaches certified in 110 countries around the world. As the world’s #1 most accoladed executive coaching program, your affiliation with Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching® can boost your profile and visibility. 

Aside from that, here are a few of the benefits you can get from joining our global coaching community:

  • Learn about our proven & quantifiable SCC® methodology (free to use once you’ve been certified)
  • Self-paced e-learning module
  • Lifetime certification & VIP access to exclusive events (keynotes with Marshall Goldsmith, Master Coaches)
  • Real-life coaching projects to improve your skills
  • Get featured on MGSCC® website, branded marketing collaterals, and access to free-to-use resources. 

And so much more!

See if coaching is the right path for you by downloading our new & improved program brochure here. Or get in touch with our program advisor — they will be happy to answer any questions you might have about the program. 




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