Executive Coaching vs Mentoring: What You Need to Know

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So you’ve been tasked with researching executive coaches for one or more senior staff members at your organization. Or perhaps there’s been conversation regarding the possible benefits of executive coaching and it’s your job to draft the proposed initiative. 

Where do you start?

Even if you have an idea what executive coaching is, this can be a daunting task. You certainly want to be intentional as you conduct your research. But what exactly are you researching and where should you start?

Just like any other project, you want to gather meaningful information. More than likely, you’ll need to prepare a presentation of some sort that either details or summarizes your findings. First, it’s important to understand what coaching is and what it isn’t.

Isn’t it something like mentoring? Not really. As a matter of fact, mentoring and coaching (in the traditional sense, related to executive coaching), they are worlds apart.

While this article is in no way a comprehensive list, it highlights a few of the more salient points that will provide you with the basics so you can be better prepared as you collect information that will identify next steps.


As executives progress in their careers, it’s imperative they have the opportunity to get periodic guidance from a trusted mentor. Some organizations have a mentoring protocol in place (never a bad idea), while others may unofficially recognize the importance of having mentors for their aspiring leaders.

In either case, the experience can be extremely valuable; especially when the mentor has served (or is serving) in the position the mentee aspires to occupy in the future. A mentor can help pave the way to success by offering the wisdom they’ve gained, as well as giving critiques and feedback. While this is a much-needed resource, a mentor is not a coach.

Executive coach

The role of the executive coach is quite different; particularly when the anticipated outcome of working with a coach involves strengthening areas related to soft skills such as communication, conflict management (especially with peers or direct reports), leadership development (succession planning) or myriad characteristics the organization may require from their leaders.

An executive coach should be skilled in these areas and be able to offer various ways to help the executive effectively engage with others in any of the identified leadership attributes. Depending on the need and/or the coach’s preference or experience, there may be one or more assessments they can administer that will provide valuable data required to set a baseline of the executive’s current status.

Assessments can include, but are not limited to; 360 assessments, questionnaires and/or interviews. Although it’s not always necessary, gathering data from direct reports, peers and senior leaders can offer a lot more information than executive coaching alone. It can also be a bit more costly, however the benefits are usually more than worth it. This is especially prevalent with positions that can have a direct impact on the organization’s bottom line.

While progress can certainly be reported from time to time, the coach/client confidentiality must remain the centerpiece of the relationship.

Now that we’ve covered mentoring and coaching, here are a few of the things executive coaches and mentors do and things that don’t typically fit in their job description.

Mentor Executive Coach
  • They are subject matter experts (SME) on the business
  • They offer advice or guidance based on their experience
  • They have more loyalty to the organization
  • They don’t meet with mentees on a regular basis
  • They typically don’t sign any formal agreement regarding the engagement



  • They may not be subject matter experts (SME) on the business
  • They don’t offer advice or guidance
  • They focus on specific areas related to leadership attributes
  • They hold regularly scheduled sessions with the executive
  • They maintain a confidential relationship with the the executive



As mentioned earlier, a major distinction between mentoring and coaching is confidentiality. By design, the degree of confidentiality will be spelled out in the coaching agreement. Even though the contract is normally between the organization and the coach, there are certain aspects of the coaching relationship that must remain confidential. Otherwise, the executive being coached may not be comfortable having the type of open, frank conversations that are necessary during the coaching engagement.  

Understanding how mentoring and coaching differ will definitely help when you begin to design or outline the search criteria. Exactly what skills or experience the coach you hire will also need to be taken into consideration. That will be determined by your requirements and the results you and the organization are looking for once the engagement comes to a close. Finally, when you have the conversation about executive coaching, you can feel confident in knowing and recognizing how mentoring and coaching are worlds apart; making your world easier to manage…at least for this topic.

Are you thinking of hiring an executive coach for yourself or your organization? Click the button below to schedule an executive coaching needs assessment and get executive coach recommendations for yourself or leaders in your organization. 

By Reginald Jackson Sr

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