When coaches are really mentors

When coaches are really mentors


Telemachus and Mentor

It appears that the terms coach and mentor are becoming increasingly interchangeable. Attend any business network and you’ll meet a business coach, who on closer inspection turns out to be a mentor instead. They define their practice by their business experience and work with clients who are specifically interested in benefiting from their industry expertise.

Let me clarify how I distinguish the two in my own practice, so it’s clear where I stand on this.


…are centered on the needs and interests of the mentee, who seeks out the mentor for their expertise and knowledge in a specific area.

The mentor’s role is to convey advice and knowledge, and offer encouragement and support in a safe, confidential manner to the mentee. Conversations are focused on specific questions and can be quite task oriented at times. The relationship can continue over long periods of time, sometimes with long pauses.


…help clients through focused conversations aimed at working with the coachee’s question(s) to achieve an objective they set themselves. The contribution of the coach is to bring deep knowledge of the processes that help and hinder individuals (and groups) get clarity on their objectives and the obstacles to overcome along the way.

Coaches rarely give advice of any kind. In fact, more often than not coaches do not even share the professional background of their coachee. Even so, the coach might suggest some reading or using a tool; this type of guidance is always focused on the process of development itself.

Coaching relationships tend to be time-limited with the number and frequency of sessions decided up front in the majority of cases. This does not mean that coachees never return to their coach for a new series, though!

Does it matter which is which?

Mentors are advisors, who contrary to a consultant, are not going to deliver solutions themselves or implement anything on behalf of the client. It only gets confusing when a prospective client is clear about not needing consultancy but just the advice, and overlooks the option of specifically searching for one or more mentors.

For coaches such as me it can be a little frustrating to see our profession assumed in a way which we do not practise it ourselves, but to be truthful, that situation offers me an opportunity to explain in more detail what it is I do do when I am coaching. And since there are huge differences between coaches and the focus of their practice too, there is a lot to explore with a prospective client anyway.

It matters to understand the differences

Personally, I do wish to explain what makes mentors different from coaches, especially since I am both. But even if I secretly prefer the distinctions to be clear to everyone, being able to explain my practice and finding out what a prospective client is interested in as a result is always a good thing.

What do you think?

When coaches are really mentors

Wildlife and our wellbeing

Picture of a robin

Early this morning I found myself in Shotover Park just outside Oxford to be interviewed about wildlife and wellbeing. My interviewer, radio presenter Stuart Mabbutt, invited me onto his radio show Going Wild With Wildlife to chat about how the seasons affect my work and business.

Seasons influencing my coaching and mentoring business you might ask. Really?

There is no question that the season we live in makes a huge impact on how we feel. The weather matters a great deal to us, and that’s not just to complain about it! Our social calendar is heavily influenced by the time of year too. We brighten up our long, dark nights of autumn with celebrations like Halloween and Guy Fawkes, and we ring in the New Year on one of the shortest days of winter with great displays of fireworks. They get us out and about in the dark, and make us feel better for it.

The link between wildlife and our wellbeing

How we feel influences our behaviour, judgment and decision making, so yes, the seasons make a difference in my work. Stuart’s question made me think about our relationship with wildlife and nature.

As we walked into Shotover Park, Stuart almost apologetically said there would be noise from the nearby M40 in the interview. I had not noticed the noise because I was busy listening to the birds, which were out in numbers in the early morning sun. Stuart informed me we were listening to a robin a few trees away. The sun lit up the golden grass as we picked our way to a spot near our little robin so we could capture some of its gorgeous song in the background.

Five ways to wellbeing

A comprehensive report on the benefits of different forms of ecotherapy by the charity Mind defines wellbeing as a positive physical, social and mental state. The report lists five, evidence-based ways to wellbeing:

  1. connecting with others and the world around you
  2. being active for better physical health
  3. taking notice of what is happening in the present
  4. giving your time and help to others activates the reward areas of the brain
  5. keep learning to increase self-esteem and resilience

Connecting with nature can do all of the above.

‘Ecotherapy’ refers to nature-based, facilitated interventions aimed at improving mental wellbeing. Such interventions can range from nature walks to conservation projects and animal-assisted interventions. They are different from nature-based activities for a general public in that they are specifically aimed to meet certain objectives, such as alleviating depression or overcoming social anxiety.

The report is really worth a read. Here are some of my personal highlights:

  • significant increases in perceived positivity were recorded by participants during the projects included in the study
  • 55% of participants reported increases in self-esteem and 76% reported an improvement in  mood after a single ecotherapy session
  • more than 60% reported feeling more of a connection with nature
  • many participants also learned more eco-friendly behaviours and had adopted healthier lifestyles

Cutting out the noise

As our interview progressed, we were interrupted by a helicoptre, which was too loud to ignore. No matter: we simply restarted the interview.

There were joggers throwing us curious glances in passing. We waved at them, and they waved back. A mature student from a local college stopped for a chat after spotting us. He usually walked from Littleworth to Oxford for his classes because the walks were a great way to start his day of learning.

We watched a dog or two sniff around the tripod as we were recording the show, mindful that no-one would cock their leg. We discussed the smell of cow pats in the morning, and whether or not horses are simply very large rabbits with two passing park wardens. The jury is still out on that last one.

No-one seemed to notice the M40.