Coaching vs Mentoring vs Training: Which One Is Fit for You?

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Coaching, mentoring, and training are similar in many ways. All three can further the development and skills of others. So you’ll often hear people use them interchangeably.

And while each method is distinct, the lines are frequently blurred.

  • Coaches often mentor and train their clients.
  • Mentors often coach and train their protégés.
  • Trainers may step into the role of coach or mentor as they work with trainees.

So, what are the differences between coaching vs mentoring vs training, and how can you use their differences and similarities to inform your coaching programs and courses?

Let’s look at each method individually and then discuss the right choice for you.

What Is Coaching?

ICF (International Coaching Federation) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

The purpose of coaching is to get unstuck. Coaches partner with their clients to help them get out of their own way by identifying and overcoming obstacles to their goals and recognizing patterns. Coaches provide clients with a necessary outside perspective that improves awareness.

According to the ICF, these are the eight core competencies for coaches.

  • Demonstrates ethical practice
  • Embodies a coaching mindset
  • Establishes and maintains agreements
  • Cultivates trust and safety
  • Maintains presence
  • Listens actively
  • Evokes awareness
  • Facilitates client growth

Coaching is an appropriate intervention for individuals whose personal or professional development has plateaued. 

Though employers sometimes hire coaches for employee development, people generally hire coaches for a specific desired outcome. For example, clients may hire a coach to get fit, achieve a financial goal, or learn effective parenting strategies.

ICF promotes high standards and is a great resource for those interested in coaching
ICF promotes high standards and is a great resource for those interested in coaching

What Is Mentoring?

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) defines mentoring as “a reciprocal and collaborative at-will relationship that most often occurs between a senior and junior employee for the purpose of the mentee’s growth, learning, and career development.

For entrepreneurs, this can include someone with more entrepreneurial experience mentoring someone with less experience. For example, if you have 20+ years of experience in running brick-and-mortar bakeries, you may choose to mentor talented bakers who have undeveloped skills.

According to the Together platform, a software designed to support mentors, there are ten non-negotiable skills essential for mentors.

  • Active listening
  • Trust building
  • Authentic relationships
  • Transparency
  • Giving feedback
  • Cultural awareness
  • Aligning goals and expectations
  • Conflict management
  • Facilitating reflective thinking
  • Self-reflection and improvement 

Mentoring is the right choice when someone new to their career requires a trusted and experienced guide. This option is often a longer-term mentoring relationship with a broader scope.

Mentors are frequently unpaid and assigned to people new to their job or an environment, like a school. The mentor will show them the ropes, introduce them to important people, and help them through trickier processes.

For example, someone new to the coaching industry may seek a more experienced coach to mentor them. This mentor can help them onboard new clients, talk over their business, and introduce them to a legal firm or recommend a coaching platform.

What Is Training?

ATD defines training as a “formal process by which talentdevelopment professionals help individuals improve performance at work.

While an actual, warm-blooded human being must lead coaching and mentoring, not all training requires a trainer. Some training is self-directed using prepared resources, such as a printed guide, recorded videos, and computer-based training.

However, trainers will always have some role. After all, most on-the-job training is a one-on-one experience where the trainer follows a checklist with the new hire. And classroom training, whether virtual or face to face, is a highly valued experience.

ATD lists seven competencies under Training Delivery and Facilitation. We’ve summarized them here.

  • Coordinated: Trainers are skilled at planning meetings and training events.
  • Flexible: Trainers facilitate in both face-to-face and virtual environments.
  • Knowledgeable: They are familiar with different facilitation methods.
  • Perceptive: They create positive learning environments for their students.
  • Selective: They choose the correct delivery option for the desired outcome.
  • Savvy: They are familiar with different delivery tools.
  • Skilled: They create learning activities that help accomplish an objective. 

Training programs are the best solution when meeting a knowledge or skill gap. It’s the perfect fit for those who don’t know how to do something or don’t know how to do it well.

Many trainers prefer the word facilitator to acknowledge that they are facilitating learning. However, these are synonyms and can be reasonably interchanged.

The TD Capability Model details standards for skills in many training capabilities
The TD Capability Model details standards for skills in many training capabilities

Coaching vs Mentoring vs Training: Which Is Right for You?

Understanding the differences between these three ways of developing your clients can help you consider how to shape your programs.

Would you be more effective by approaching your clients as a coach, a mentor, or a trainer?

Take a look at this table to see which coaching relationship works best for you.

PurposeHelp clients gain a new perspective or get out of their own wayHelp protégés develop deep wisdom or get acclimated to a new environmentHelp trainees learn new skills or job functions
ContextOften in private sectors or sports — fewer applications within corporate structures, though new manager programs are similarOften present in corporate or among students — mentoring programs are often used to help shape raw talentUniversally used in jobs and also applied to learning new skills, like driver training or training for a marathon
Tools and TechniquesThe coach uses questions to guide the client towards their own priorities and goalsThe mentor asks questions to troubleshoot situations and offer adviceThe trainer uses a formal approach like tell, show, let, and test to equip an employee with skills
SizeIndividual to groupIndividualIndividual to masses*
TimeframeGenerally short term, like 2 to 6 monthsGenerally long term, 2–5 yearsFor a specific goal, 30 minutes to several years, often using a mix of trainers
Choose this if…You want to help someone get out of their own wayYou want to mentor a protégé with great potentialYou want to transfer your skills to others.
Example 1: Experienced actor wants to help new actorsHelping new actors overcome imposter syndrome and audition with greater confidenceTaking those with raw talent and mentoring them in the trade, helping them to fit in and gain deep wisdomCreating a course in method acting, how to get an agent, or how to audition well
Example 2: Housecleaning expert wants to help momsMotivating moms to change the way they see their house-cleaning tasks.Troubleshooting household systems and giving advice, offering direction to programs that are specific for their needs.Teaching them a system to declutter and minimize house cleaning.

Is Coaching for You?

Some people’s personalities and talents make them a more natural fit to be a coach. The easier it is to say yes to the following questions, the more likely this fits you.

  • Do you love working directly with people?
  • Do you find it easy to listen without judgment?
  • Do you feel comfortable with pauses and silence in a conversation?
  • Do you tolerate other people’s emotions easily?
  • Do others feel safe opening up to you?
  • Do you excel at helping others gain insight to change their situation?
  • Do you enjoy helping people get unstuck and then letting them move on?
  • Do you have deep expertise in your area?

All these are signs that you are a good fit as a coach. Some skills, like emotional intelligence, can be learned and don’t need to be innate. So, if you have all yeses (or the desire to make all of these a yes), it’s time to consider a coaching program.

Dave Moreno’s program is an excellent example of coaching. You can see how he talks about hitting a wall after experiencing success. This program is a solution for a specific short-term problem.

Dave Moreno has a short-term solution for clients that feel stuck
Dave Moreno has a short-term solution for clients that feel stuck

Is Mentoring for You?

Mentoring skills have much in common with coaching, but there are differences. You may find that you prefer one even though you’re good at both.

The easier it is to say “yes” to these questions, the more likely mentoring is right for you.

  • Do you love working directly with people who recently made a significant change?
  • Do you find it easy to listen without judgment?
  • Do you tolerate other people’s emotions easily?
  • Do others feel safe opening up to you?
  • Do you prefer informal conversations where there’s only a loose agenda?
  • Do you have broad expertise in your area?
  • Are you the type of person who nurtures a long-term relationship?
  • Do you have several contacts that can help others establish themselves?

Mentoring programs are instrumental in helping those with raw talent get established. And if you are drawn to this and don’t have all the skills yet, you can develop them with time and practice.

This is often a carefully considered choice, highly dependent on a mutually beneficial relationship. One example is the mentoring relationship between Warren Buffet and Bill Gates.

If you want to mentor others, you can carefully select protégés or create a program with mentorship aspects. A coaching program with a mentoring feel would be a longer, looser coaching process with frequent one-on-ones and the option to reenroll each year.

Business Insider shares a bit about how Warren Buffet mentored Bill Gates
Business Insider shares a bit about how Warren Buffet mentored Bill Gates

Is Training for You?

Great trainers make a huge difference in the way we view ourselves and the skills we’re trying to learn.

For example, if you want to learn to grow flowers, a great trainer can make you feel like you have a special gift for growing flowers. But if you take a class by a flower expert who’s not great at training, you might come to believe you have a poison touch.

Training skills differ depending on whether you work directly with students or create an online course. But we’ll stick with people-facing training since that’s more comparable to coaching and mentoring.

How many yeses are true for you?

  • Do you thrive in an environment where you’re training a specific skill?
  • Is it simple for you to describe processes in a step-by-step manner?
  • Do you quickly recognize when someone doesn’t understand a concept?
  • Are you generally able to troubleshoot why they don’t understand?
  • Do you allow your students to practice the skills you teach?
  • Do you provide enough practice for students to retain skills?
  • Do you give feedback that makes an immediate difference?
  • Do you find it simple to apply the same concepts to multiple situations?

Training is an ideal solution for those who lack knowledge or skills. If you love to build skills and knowledge, a training program could be the perfect fit for you.

Claire Pells’s program is an outstanding example of training. While she calls herself a coach, this is a high-touch individualized training program designed to teach her clients how to use Facebook ads to bring in leads.

Claire’s program is for six-figure business owners ready to scale with Facebook ads
Claire’s program is for six-figure business owners ready to scale with Facebook ads


Because the words coaching, mentoring, and training are used interchangeably, you can call yourself a coach even if you have a course or a mentoring program, especially if you have direct contact with your clients.

Being able to differentiate these three is helpful for you to think about the way you name your program and design it. However, using the language the way your clients would make sense.

You’ll also find that whichever program you choose, having skills in all three roles will significantly benefit you and your clients.

Which program do you lean toward? Did you have trouble choosing?

Leave a comment below and tell us.

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