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The Difference Between Coaching & Mentoring, Consulting & Counselling

Blog Series: De-mystifying Coaching

Blog #3: The Difference Between Coaching & Mentoring


By Cindy Turner, Master Coach

The profession of coaching is often confused with other approaches including: mentoring, consulting and counselling. We believe that there is validity in all of these approaches however, it is key to know which approach to use and for what purpose. This third blog in the De-mystifying Coaching series intends to clarify and empower leaders to build awareness of their differences so they can best utilise the correct approach to address their needs appropriately.


According to the International Coach Federation (ICF), a peak membership body for coaches defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential.” The coach is the subject matter expert on the facilitation of the coaching process, but is not necessarily the subject matter expert of the client (coachee’s) topic. The coach honours the client as the expert in his/her life and work and hence, is highly skilled at asking questions which elicit the resources and expertise of the coachee. Coaching is not about giving advice or a conversation that offers solutions.


As per the above diagram, coaching sits in the realm of creating solutions through skilful questioning. According to CoActive Coaching, the line between coaching and counselling is not defined by a set of absolute rules or terms. In general, counsellors are trained to skilful ask questions with the intention to diagnose and help clients with their problems including:  with emotional trauma, past events or dysfunction. Although not exclusively, a counsellor tends to focus on past events as they impact on the present experience of their clients. Counselling does not typically emphasise what a person should do and how he or she should take action. 

The coach’s domain is future oriented, often assisting the coachee to draw a line in the sand and gaining clarity about what the coachee wants to achieve. And then coaching the client to get there.


In our experience, some people use the terms coaching and mentoring synonymously, yet they are not interchangeable. Each have their place but it is important to be clear on which professional you are engaging as they each have a unique focus and desired outcome. 

A mentor is a wise and trusted guide and advisor. An article titled ‘What’s the Difference Between a Coach and a Mentor?’, published in Forbes stated that, “Mentors are successful people who share their hard-earned wisdom to provide insight and guidance as a mentee encounters challenges along their journey. They typically function in a reactive capacity, responding to issues as they arise.” They are typically more experienced or skilled in their chosen field and act as a teacher in sharing their experience; transferring their knowledge and skills to a ‘mentee’ who is less experienced. 

Working with a mentor is ideal when a mentee is looking for guidance and advice or to develop a specific skill in a particular niche area that the mentor is a subject matter expert in. Like a coach, a mentor is looking to create solutions with their client. However, the mentor will offer suggestions and solutions to aid the mentee, while a  coach  will assist the coachee to access their own inner resources to resolve their own problems. The coach is not necessarily the subject matter expert on the client’s chosen focus area. The coach’s skill is in assisting the coachee through asking questions, to discover their own solutions.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) has distinguished that, “Mentoring may include advising, counselling and coaching whilst the coaching process does not include advising or counselling.”

Training (A subset of mentoring)

A trainer generally passes on advice and knowledge due to their expertise in that field. In many ways, it is similar to mentoring. The difference between training and mentoring is that mentoring is less formal and usually done one-to-one or in small groups. Training on the other hand, is usually more formal and generally done in larger groups. Training entails teaching, because it passes on advice and knowledge. 


Many former leaders of industry decide to hang their coaching shingles as a half-step towards retirement, but actually have no coaching qualifications or skills at all. This is another key area of confusion as unsuspecting organisations seek to engage coaches and end up hiring consultants. 

A consultant is an expert who is called upon for professional or technical advice or opinions. They are relied on to understand the problem and present solutions around their area of expertise. 

Consulting is unlike coaching because with pure coaching, the answers come from the client. Consultants typically giveyou answers while coaches are skilled at askinggreat questions so you take a lead role in identifying your own solutions.


As you know doubt have noticed, there is a common theme to all of the above approaches. These practitioners all have a desire to help their clients, to make a difference. We believe each approach has it’s unique place and impact. I trust this article has assisted you to understand their differences and when to use each. Take the time to get clear on what it is you’re seeking to achieve and find the right approach to get you there.