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What’s the difference between coaching and mentoring?

Two common stances for a scrum master are coaching and mentoring. Often these words are used interchangeably, but they are two very distinct approaches to working with and developing others.

What is a mentor?

A mentor is often referred to as a “wise guide”, trusted advisor or wise council. A mentor will have a good level of experience in the mentee’s working domain. They provide support to the mentee by offering information, advice and practical assistance to help their development and growth.

Good mentors draw on their own experience, skills and wisdom to help guide the mentee with the challenge or situation they are facing. While the relationship should be level, the responsibility for learning and committing to a plan of action is firmly that of the mentee.

What is a coach?

A coach is someone who helps create a conversation that will benefit the other person. They do not need to have experience in the domain the coachee is working. The conversation will relate to the coachee’s learning and development. The conversation is entirely focused on the coachee, starting with what they are trying to achieve and resulting in a committed plan to take and action or make an improvement.

The coach has faith that the coachee has the ability to have their own ideas, make their own decisions and move themselves forward. The coach is disconnected from the outcome and does not try to “fix” someone by solving their problems. The goal is to reveal the coachee’s ability to resolve their own problems.

What are the similarities?

Both a coach and a mentor are committed to the mentee’s/coachee’s success, but they are not attached to it. They both hope the mentee/coachee will get a lot from the conversations, but it is up to the mentee/coachee to decide what to do as a result. Neither role is there to make decisions.

Both roles rely on a trusting relationship where the conversation is open and honest.

What are the differences?

The most significant difference between the two roles is how giving advice is positioned. In a mentoring relationship, this is the primary approach while coaches rarely give advice.


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