The difference between teaching, coaching, and mentoring in people development.

The difference between teaching, coaching, and mentoring in people development.

By  Paulo Napolitano

The majority of people don’t understand the exact difference between teaching, coaching and mentoring. I hear people say, “you should mentor that person” when, in fact, what he is asking is for you to coach the person. The same applies to teaching.

Why is it important to distinguish the difference between them? Because they require a different approach!!!

Enough talking! Let’s get our hands dirty!!!!


Teaching focuses on making an individual learn the basic concepts and key points to perform a certain process. Teaching must be given in an environment that allows the student to make mistakes without causing any harm to the project or organization. The teacher will focus his or her communication on the concepts, key points, examples and exercises that the student needs to learn and practice to perform in the real world.


When I am teaching strategic planning to a student, one basic concept is “alignment” and a key point for alignment is that “all stakeholders must participate”. In order for the student to learn I give him one or more examples and exercises to practice. “Concepts, key points, example and exercises represents the basic structure of my conversation. At the end of the training I must be confident that the student understood the basic concepts, key points, and practiced enough so he can be released into the real world and become a practitioner.


Coaching occurs in the real world, the place where things happen. Coaching transpires during action! The coach’s expertise must be built upon an extensive experience implementing basic concepts and key points in different situations. As the practitioner starts implementing what he or she has learned, he or she will face situations that are unique, and most of the time, he or she will need to make adjustments. The coach‘s role is to help the practitioner adjust his or her performance based on the situation that he or she is experiencing and improve his or her efficiency. The coach will focus his or her communication on basic concepts, key points, identifying the situation, adjusting actions, performance, and lessons learned.


Let’s keep strategic planning as the example. As the practitioner starts performing strategic planning he or she must implement the basic concept alignment.The key point for alignment is “all the stakeholders must participate”. At this point, he or she realizes that he or she has 1,000 stakeholders to align or the stakeholders are in different countries. Some of these situations were not predicted in class and it is impossible to predict all them when you teach, trust me. Now the practitioner asks me, the coach, “How can I align 1,000 stakeholders” or “How can I align stakeholders in different countries”? My job is to share my experience on how I approached this situation and help him or her adjust his or her actions to increase efficiency in his or her performance. This way the practitioner has a path to follow to deal with a situation that was not shared in class. Even if he or she experienced the situation in class, I will observe his or her performance so I can coach him or her to do small adjustments and help him or her reduce the overburdening in the future. After he or she performs, I will guide him or her through a lessons learned session so adjustments can be incorporated and experience can be built.


Mentoring focuses on the individual and his or her path for fulfillment. As people become more mature, as they get more experience, they will rethink their goals for the future. The role of the Mentor is to help him or her create a picture of the future and a path to get there. A mentor does not talk about concepts or key points. He or she encourages people to talk about their personal values, find emotional balance through their individuality, find meaning in life by creating a picture of the future so they can see who they want to become. A pre-requisite for being a successful Mentor is to have trust from your mentee. The mentee is the person who finds the mentor, not vice-versa.


The first action I perform as a Mentor is to emotionally stabilize my mentee. All mentees are anxious. I must find the reason for this anxiety.  This anxiety can hold reasoning that is either good or bad, but both interfere in the process to see the future because they will twist it. In our first meeting I let them speak freely until they release most of the anxiety so we can get to work. Sometimes, I need more than one meeting! This conversation also gives me a good background to be able to create a plan to help him/her see the future. I am also able to understand the source of the anxiety.

After the anxiety is under control, I help them see themselves in the future. I encourage them to ask themselves: Who do I want to become? What if…? I don’t interfere on the output of the exercise but I repeat their words so they can hear what they have said. Once all of the possibilities have been spoken, we align them to build a picture of the future.

Next, I guide them through an evaluation of the current situation. It helps them see the gap between the present and the future.

Following this evaluation, I help them to create a plan to bridge the gap between the present and the future so they can see what they need to do, the resources they must acquire, and the milestones they must accomplish to fulfill their goals as an individual.

Finally we set up a series of meetings so they can evaluate their plan and make corrections to adjust the actions or to adjust the picture of the future and practice lessons learned.

I look forward to hearing from you on your experience in teaching, coaching, and mentoring people.

Original Article: