Training, Coaching and Mentoring: What’s the Difference?

Building on from ‘What is coaching?’ it is important to differentiate coaching from other development approaches to understand the different roles and approaches of each. Training, Coaching and Mentoring all have their place in organisations to develop employees, but they all are different requiring different skills, approaches and outcomes. A brief overview of the styles is identified in the table.


Emphasis / Focus
Development of new skills

Short term focus and input

Refreshing old skills

Technical or ‘soft’ focus

Highly transactional

Short term few days

‘Teacher and pupils’ scenario

Ownership is with trainer to impart skills

Trainer as expert

Expert knowledge

Trainer led

Activities, discussions, role play, exercises

Support primarily at time

Goals identified as start of session and coaching intervention


Increased skill set

Increased confidence in using skills

Not always a plan of how to apply skills

Develops existing skills

Develop confidence

Longer term focus and input

Considers ‘how’ to achieve something

Developing person not skill

Longer term, more transformational

4-6 sessions for 1-2 hours

Ownership of actions is with learner

Learner as expert

Learner with expert knowledge

Questions and exploration by coach

Experience, scenario, options and metaphor based

Increased application of skills

Increased awareness of behaviours and impact

Increased options of approaches

Plan of approach often present

Increased confidence


Mentor sharing their experience with learner

Longer term development focus


Long term relationship

Can be lifetime relationship


Ownership with learner

Mentor as expert

Mentor led

Questions and exploration by mentor

Experience based

Evolving agenda over time

Increased clarity on direction, career, role or life

Increased awareness

Mentee led plan

Increased confidence


It is clear from the table that there is a distinct difference between training and coaching. Someone may attend training and be taught or instructed on how to do a new skill or learn a new behaviour. It is up to the learner to then go and apply the skill or behaviour. Subsequently a coach will be used by the learner to understand how to apply the skill better, or where to apply it, or there might be obstacles to using the skill. The coach over several sessions will achieve this by exploring ideas, options and opportunities that the learner identifies. The learner can then go and try some of these approaches and see what happens.


Later on in their career and life the learner may well become highly competent in their field. They might then look inside or outside their organisation to find someone who they admire, respect or is an expert in their field. They will meet, with the learner suggesting how the mentor might be able to support them. Over a longer time the mentor will share their experiences, be quizzed by the learner and may well explore the learners aspirations. The learner may use this time to help them achieve their aspirations in work or life.


Organisations may well create formal frameworks to structure coaching and mentoring programmes and sessions. Internal coaches might be developed to support learners in the organisation.


When you are approached to coach someone, part of your role is to explore the coaching need and determine if it is a coaching requirement or is it actually about developing new skills and therefore a training need instead?


Coaching isn’t counselling. Occasionally a learner may have problems or issues that need specialist support and input. Part of a coach’s skill is determining when what is being shared is beyond the realms of what coaching is about and also their skill set. Coaches have a responsibility to direct their learners to appropriate internal or external expert support. The boundaries and ethics by which coaches operate can be found on the European Mentoring and Coaching Council or the International Coaching Federation websites. However tempting it might be to want to ‘help’ someone, a good coach will work with a learner to help them see they need alternative support.