It may seem hard to believe that these three useful disciplines would need further definition or clarification but too often I’ve seen them overlap and when they do, the effectiveness of all three diminish.

Using the example below. Let’s illustrate the differences very clearly:

A small business owner feels overwhelmed. She is a one person operation with two part time employees. She worked in the telecommunications industry for 12 years and has now opened her own consulting business which specializes in helping large companies manage their teleconferencing and internet based communications. She has two full time clients and weekly deadlines to meet. Her clients make their payments about 30-45 days of invoice so she occasionally has to pay her employees from her personal account. Between her weekly deadlines and tight cash flow, she has very little time to market her business, network with other professionals, or attract new clients. More than once, her clients have asked her to drop what she is doing and focus on a specific issue or an upcoming project and when it happens, she often falls behind on her deliverables. Her days are getting longer and her productivity is down. She is looking for help and advice and has begun to question how much longer she can do this…

COACH: The coach’s job is to help the client find solutions that come from within themselves.

Here are a few questions a good coach may ask…

  • What can you do to get your clients to pay faster?
  • What can you delegate to your employees so you can meet your deadlines?
  • Do you keep a list of tasks to be prioritized on a daily and weekly basis? How might this keep you from feeling overwhelmed?
  • Could you assign someone to go to marketing events or networking events in order to increase business?

MENTOR: The mentoring role consists of sharing experience and assisting in professional growth and development.

A mentor might make the following statements and suggestions…

  • I was in this very same situation when I began my business. These are some things I did that helped me alleviate my situation (gives specific examples).
  • Why don’t you come by the office and spend a day watching how I do what I do? If you’d like, we can devote an afternoon or so each week to go over things.
  • There is a group I meet with over lunch every other week to discuss these same challenges you are facing. I’ll sponsor you and pay for your first two months of membership.
  • I may not have an answer for this problem, but I know someone who is in your industry who can help you. Let me make an introduction for you.

THERAPY: A therapist is likely to approach the issues on a more personal level.

The therapist might ask questions such as these…

  • What happens when you start to feel frustrated and overwhelmed?
  • How do your employees react when that happens?
  • How do you feel when your clients spring a new sudden deadline on you?
  • What can you do to allow yourself to relax at the end of a long day?

Here is a quick exercise, go back to the top of this article.

Take 60 seconds and look at the coaching questions.

Then do the same for the mentoring statements

Repeat for the therapy questions.

It should become clear pretty quickly that each role provides its own important value but should not be intermingled with each other. A coach must be especially careful to not dilute the role they have. If they have a specific suggestion, it may be wise to say something along these lines “I am going to remove my coaching hat for a minute and share a story, make a suggestion, point out this resource, etc.”


One of the most important things to remember is that steady progress should be expected as time goes by. Since we are using a business example for this discussion, let’s put the therapy aspect aside for now and focus on how we look at progress from a coaching and mentoring perspective. Going back to our example above, here are some distinguishing differences between coaching and mentoring when it comes to progression.

COACH: Here are some questions and statements that a coach might leave with a client as one session ends and preparation for the next one begins…

  • Let’s highlight the key points from today’s session.
  • What are the takeaways from our discussion?
  • What can you do this week to alleviate some of the issues you are dealing with?
  • Please chart your progress and send it to me 24 hours before our next session.
  • What are you accountable for this week? What are your employees accountable for?

MENTOR: A mentor is usually more directly involved with the person they are mentoring. Given the difference, the questions and statements would be more along these lines…

  • Let’s make sure we meet at least twice this week so we can work on finding the solution together. I’ll have some ideas and suggestions ready.
  • After we meet, let’s exchange emails with ideas we can go back and forth on. We can set up an additional meeting later in the week if we need to.
  • I’m available at all times if you need to chat and talk about the progress you’ve made. If you are frustrated, we can certainly explore other solutions together as well.
  • I was going through some old notes from a few years ago when I had this same problem. This is what I did and I’m sure it will help you.
  • There is a lecture this week that discusses a lot of the problems you are having. I know the person who is speaking. Why don’t we go together and I’ll see if I can’t arrange for some private time for you with him when it’s over?

Again the difference is very clear.

CONCLUSION: All three roles can be very important and useful to a business owner –particularly the first two (I would advise removing the therapy portion when working on your business). By keeping the roles separate and distinctive, you will have built in tools from different perspectives that will provide excellent resources and support as you build your business.

#Leadership #Success #Coaching