Am I a Coach or a Mentor?

We’ve been training coaching and mentoring for quite a few years now and this question always pops up, ‘What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring?’  In fact it’s one of the questions you need to answer if you want to achieve the ILM Qualifications in Coaching and Mentoring we provide.


My first instinct is to say you can be both a coach and a mentor, depending on the context and who you are working with. Yet they are quite different disciplines and each has a different focus.


Coaching is primarily focused on performance and is typically a short-term intervention. Most of the time the client (my preferred word) has a particular theme or challenge they want to address. The coach works with them over a limited time frame and prescribed number of sessions to do this. It is all about achieving some very specific objectives.  The client benefits from someone who can question, challenge and clarify their thinking, all with the intention of helping them adopt new strategies to achieve good outcomes.


Mentoring typically is person focused and can take place over a longer period. It provides a more holistic view and typically helps someone in their career or business aspirations. The outcomes are possibly less specific than in coaching and the client benefits from having a supportive presence. Someone who understands them and has expertise in the sector or organisation or type of business they operate in. The mentor is generally a more senior player and can often provide a springboard for a younger, less experience person to further their ambitions.


There are other differences as we explore on the programme and each provides different types of interventions to serve the client. I have been lucky to be both a coach and mentor in my time and for me it is about recognising when each is appropriate and where you can add most value.


For example, I have coached senior people in Universities with specific aspects of their leadership or management performance. I use my listening and question skills to help them to take action. I challenge them and enable them to think differently and bring new perspectives to a situation. I feel I am qualified and capable to do this well and I know the difference an external coach, someone who has not specifically held a role in that sector, can provide.


I would not dream of offering myself up as a mentor to these same people.  I simply do not have the experience of holding down a senior role in a University context or the have knowledge of the specific technical requirements of their job.  It would be inappropriate and there are others who would be better placed to do this.


However, if they approach me and say, ‘John  I’m leaving the University at the end of the month, I’m thinking of becoming a freelance consultant’, then of course, I can absolutely slip into the role of mentor. I can advise, guide, suggest or propose how they might do this. This would be based on my extensive experience of being a consultant and setting up my own business. I am now the mentor.


You see the difference?


Both these roles are extremely valuable to people right now. We live in an increasingly complex world and you only need to look at articles on change management, stress and well-being at work, to realise we all need a bit of support in our working lives and beyond.


So whether you want to coach, mentor or be both, there is room for you to join a growing band of professionals developing the practice of coaching and mentoring.


Who do you think you could serve in a coaching or mentoring role?

Join us for our Autumn 2019 ILM Coaching & Mentoring Programme, Level 5 and Level 7.  Click here for details

or email

or call 0844 873 1226

Posted by John Drysdale
30th July 2019


NEW: Heriott Watt University

We are delighted to announce we are now working with Heriott-Watt University to deliver the Welcome to Leadership programmes for their managers. The university has a large international presence with an ambitious strategy and we are looking forward to working with their Professional and Organisational Development team. Heriott-Watt is the latest University to join our growing list of valued customers within Higher Education and we are grateful for this amazing opportunity.

New ILM Coaching & Mentoring Programme – May 2022

Due to the ongoing success of our ILM Coaching & Mentoring Programmes, we have now scheduled in a second cohort for 2022.

The programme is already receiving plaudits and as a result we are growing our community of ILM Coaches and Mentors progressing towards an internationally recognised qualification.

Watch out also for our special preview events ‘Take Your Coaching To The Next Level’ running throughout March, April and May.

Information on the programme can be found here.

ILM Coaching & Mentoring May 2022

Contact us on:   or call 0844 873 1226


ILM Coaching & Mentoring September 2021

We are looking forward to starting our new cohort joining The Coaching Programme, leading to qualifications in Coaching & Mentoring from ILM at Level 5 and Level 7.

The programme begins on Friday 17th September 2021 with our ‘Coaching Foundations’ session.  All learning is done remotely, making our programme accessible wherever you are.



John's Blog

Why be a coach or mentor?

I am a little biased but I love both coaching and mentoring. I used to enjoy being the ‘trainer’ which satisfied the performer in me but as I get older there is something that I find deeply satisfying in being a coach or mentor.

More than that, I find it a privilege to work with people.  People that trust you enough to share their greatest challenges, dearest hopes, deepest fears and core beliefs about life. I can think of few professions in business that afford you such intimacy. I feel lucky and grateful each and every session I get to spend with my clients. (more…)

Speaking Truth to Power

For those afraid of speaking …

(But) TED is a tough, pressured, hugely stressful gig, even for experienced public speakers, and I’m not that. Standing in the wings waiting to go on, I told the stage manager that my heart was racing uncontrollably and in an act of great kindness, she grasped both my hands and made me take breath after breath. And what you don’t see in the video – deftly edited out – is the awful, heart-stopping moment when I forgot a line, followed by another act of collective kindness, a spontaneous empathic cheer as I composed myself and found my cue. “That’s when the audience came onside,” an attendee told me. “You were human. That’s when you won them over.”  Guardian April 2019


This from Carole Cadwalladr, a journalist at the Guardian who has in this last year investigated the role of tech corporations and their platforms in influencing the workings of our democracy.  What makes her TED talk so compelling is because here she is facing those very same technology giants on their turf.  And speaking truth to power.


Coaching: Deep Impact

This week I had the chance to attend a seminar at the Leeds Coaching Network featuring renowned coach, writer and speaker Julie Starr.  You may be familiar with some of Julie’s work including; ‘The Coaching Manual’, ‘The Mentoring Manual’ and ‘Brilliant Coaching’ and the session was everything you expected it to be. (more…)