Mentor vs Coach: How to Know What Support You Need for Professional Success

Tutti Taygerly
6 min readOct 31, 2023
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

You’re a high achiever. You care about building your career and know that it’s important to keep growing, acquiring new skills, and tackling new challenges

You wonder if there’s a secret to leadership that everyone else knows, but you’ve been missing. You’ve heard that it’s important to develop a board of directors or to work on your growth mindset or to find mentors — or was it a sponsor? — and also to build your network. Yet you’re not sure where to start.

You’ve heard of executive and career coaches. You’ve heard that other people have had great mentors.

How do you know if it’s the right time to get professional support? And which one — mentor or coach — might be the most needed for you right now?

The different approaches for mentorship vs coaching

Imagine that your goal is to learn to ride a bike. You might do it on your own by reading up on the process, watching YouTube videos or asking your friends to share their experience of learning to bike.

If you work with a mentor, someone who has years of experience and specific knowledge in the skillset of bike-riding, they will likely tell you about their own experience of learning to ride a bike. They will share common pitfalls and success strategies. They will be a wealth of information including pros/cons of different bike riding techniques and possibly the best bike brands to get started with. Your mentor will be doing most of the speaking to share their expertise.

If you work with a coach, their expertise with riding the bike matters less. They will support you in the experience of getting on a bike, perhaps holding the handlebars or creating other structures for you to feel safe and successful. When you fall, they will encourage you to get back up and keep trying, while learning from the process. The inquiry about bike riding might be:

  • What’s most important to you about learning to ride a bike?
  • When you’ve accomplished this goal, how will your life be different? What might be unlocked?
  • What patterns are holding you back?
  • What’s the biggest fear around this…

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Tutti Taygerly

Leadership coach & champion of difficult people; designer of human experiences; ex-Facebook; surfer, traveller, mom; tuttitaygerly.com