What are the differences between coaching and mentoring?

What are the differences between coaching and mentoring?

Welcome to part 14 of our agile coach interview questions series where John McFadyen answers common questions asked of agile coaches and scrum masters in interviews and client engagements.

It really depends on how you, personally, decide what coaching and mentoring looks like. The lines can get a little blurred, depending on the engagement or relationship, but for the sake of this interview question I’ll provide you with my definitions and insights.


For me, coaching is about working with someone and actively partnering with them to achieve their goals and their objectives.

I truly believe that the person that we are working with has the right answers inside of them and it is our role to provide a framework, support structure, line of questioning, and coaching techniques to help them achieve clarity around what is important to them, why it is important, and what needs to happen for that goal or objective to become a reality.

Coaches don’t do the work; the person being coached does all the work.

It is our job to help them identify the right answer for their context and help them take responsibility and accountability for doing the work, making the decisions, and taking the appropriate actions.

It is a clearly defined partnership with clearly defined roles and responsibilities.


Mentoring, in my opinion, is when someone who has deep experience and expertise in a specific field or industry brings their experience, their knowledge and their expertise to the table to help someone else navigate a journey from apprenticeship to mastery.

A great mentor may well deploy the same tools and frameworks as a coach, but they also include teaching, having valuable conversations around their line of reasoning, and help you explore how they achieved success in their industry or field.

A good fit for you is a mentor who has already walked the path you are embarking on and has deep knowledge, insight and expertise in that specific sphere profession or sphere of business. Some mentors will guide you whilst others will challenge your thinking to help you develop great judgement.

You can choose to learn from their example and follow their path to the letter or you can learn how to think, critically analyse, and learn by exploring the challenges they faced and understanding how they overcame those challenges or exploited the opportunities available to them.

The key differences between coaching and mentoring.

  • Coaches are not present in the content.
    • They aren’t necessarily subject matter experts nor are they necessarily people who have deep experience or expertise in the field you are pursuing. They don’t listen to your question and provide you with an answer because it is unlikely that they will know the answer or have the necessary expertise in that field to solve a problem for you. A mentor is invested in the content and are subject matter experts that can actively help you progress and evolve in your field.
  • Coaches don’t do the work or open doors for you.
    • Your coach isn’t necessarily connected to anyone in your field and as such, they can’t make introductions or open doors for you. Coaches don’t do the work or leverage their relationships in the industry to create momentum and opportunities for you. You do the work. It is on you to build your own network and take the appropriate actions to achieve your goals and objectives. A mentor does have the connections and network to open doors for you and they may connect you with power players that can help you get the work done efficiently and effectively.
  • Coaches aren’t necessarily invested in the outcomes you achieve.
    • A great coach is there to help you achieve your goals and yes, they are invested in seeing you become successful, but they are not attached or influenced by the outcomes. It is their job to coach, not to achieve a specific outcome. A mentor is invested in the outcomes you receive and if it is well known that they are your mentor, your progression and success is a reflection of them and their expertise. Their job is to help you learn from their insights and experience and leapfrog your competitors to achieve your goals and objectives significantly faster than they were able to in their career or profession.

In essence, these are the primary differences between a coach and a mentor. Personally, I have benefitted a great deal from having both coaches and mentors in my life, and I would recommend that you do the same.

Invest in a great coach and invest the time, effort and hard work associated with finding a great mentor that you can develop a mutually beneficial relationship with. In my case, my coaching and mentoring relationships have lasted years, sometimes even decades.

About John McFadyen

If you are interested in becoming an agile coach and value mentored, coach-driven skills development in your journey to mastery, visit our Growing Scrum Masters website.

For more information on John McFadyen, connect with John on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/johnmcfadyen/.

If you like the idea of becoming a scrum master and want to achieve internationally recognised and certified accreditation as a scrum master, visit our Certified Scrum Master (CSM) course page.

If you are already a scrum master and want to upskill to a more advanced level of knowledge and agile coaching capability, visit our Advanced Certified Scrum Master (A-CSM) course page.

If you have several years’ experience as a scrum master and want to validate and certify your professional skills, visit our Certified Scrum Professional Scrum Master (CSP-SM) course page.

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John McFadyen Managing Partner
John McFadyen is an Executive and Enterprise Agile Coach with proven experience working on some of the UK and Europe’s largest, most complex Agile Transformations. As a Certified Scrum Trainer, John brings a wealth of experience as an Agile coach, Agile practitioner and software developer into each of the four core courses he provides. The war stories, the insights into successful Agile transformations and everything he has learned from coaching high-performance Agile teams combine to provide course delegates with a unique, compelling training experience that transforms as much as it empowers.

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