The Relationship between Coaching, Mentoring, and Leadership Development

Many people I know think these are interchangeable. I do not. This short paper compares and contrasts coaching and mentoring. I believe they are different processes serving different purposed. The final section provides descriptions of four major leadership development activities.



The goal of coaching is to teach and improve specific skills. A coach is a skilled expert at the task taught. He or she observes the person perform a task and then offers suggestions for
improving performance. The coaching process can be broken down into six steps.

  1. Demonstrating or explaining the correct/best/preferred way to perform the task
  2. Observing performance of that task to identify development needs
  3. Breaking the task into subset skills and breaking those down further, if required
  4. Providing input/direction and feedback on how to perform each subset skill in sequence
  5. Combining the subsets skills and observing performance of the task again and providing input and feedback
  6. Repeating this process until the person coached performs the task at the desired level of competency



The four major goals of mentoring are to:

  1. Impart political savvy and understanding of an organization’s culture and norms
  2. Listen to the issues a protégé is facing and offer advice for dealing with them effectively
  3. Introduce the protégé to influential people who may be able to assist in the protégé’s career progression, and
  4. Facilitate the transition of protégés as they move into leadership roles.

Mentors are typically senior managers/leaders inside the protégé’s organization or someone with many years of experience in the profession and industry of the protégé.

Coaches and mentors have different roles and purposes. A mentor must be a senior executive or practitioner to be able to achieve the goals of mentoring. A coach can be anyone who possesses
the requisite knowledge and skills of the task to be learned.


Leadership Development

Coaching and mentoring are types of leadership development activities along with strategic reassignments, formal academic executive/leadership development courses/seminars, leadership
development seminars and workshops, and action-learning projects. Nearly all executive development activities fit into one of these classifications. Descriptions are below.

Strategic Reassignments are assignments in other departments or divisions, often outside their areas of expertise, to expand the breadth of knowledge and experience of leaders.

Formal Academic Leadership Development Courses are programs offered by universities specifically for senior executives and conducted by well-known professors and subject matter experts. They are often one- or two-weeks in duration and some may be much longer, especially if they include industry certifications or advanced degrees.

Leadership Development Seminars are one- or two-day programs conducted either in-house or sponsored by a university or consulting organization. They cover specific topics.

Action-Learning Assignments are special projects to which an executive is assigned. These are typically strategically important projects and involve interacting with a range of operational
functions, departments, and subsidiaries. The person given the assignment is in charge of the project.

A comprehensive leadership development program will contain elements from each category and extend for two or more years.