What is mentoring?

Definitions and important differences

In a nutshell: definitions and important differences. Mentors, coaches, sponsors, buddies, therapists – some of these have been used interchangeably. Here we explain what makes each approach unique.


A relationship between two parties who are not connected within a line management structure, in which one party (the mentor) guides the other (the mentee) through a period of change and towards an agreed objective.


Unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.

Big difference between Mentoring and Coaching? Mentors are experienced practitioners and able to offer a sounding board of career guidance and support to those with less experience, or for peers who want to talk through a challenge. Coaches are qualified practitioners in this field and charge for their services. The big difference is that on an Ask/Tell continuum, mentoring leans towards the tell and coaching to the ask though they can overlap.

Biggest similarity between Mentoring and Coaching? We recommend you should not mentor or coach anyone where you have any managerial responsibility for them. But you can use some of the skills e.g. active listening, open questions, helping set realistic objectives.


Sponsorships are an (almost) foolproof way of nurturing future stars. Often confused with mentoring, it is important to be clear on the difference. A sponsor is a senior-level staff member invested in a protégé’s career success via such routes as recommending them for a pitch or arranging some training.


As a key part of the welcome programme, a buddy is a friendly face a new employee knows they can seek support from in terms of explaining how things work. A buddy should not be from the same account team to encourage integration and candour.


A confidential (outsourced) service some agencies offer to help with the emotional life of the individual, for example mental health. Counsellors can advise on subjects such as family relationships or bereavement. Therapists will often offer specialist therapies such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy.  

Find out more in our Guide to Mentoring and Coaching
Last updated 25 April 2022