You need a mentor

Why, how to get one, the difference between coaching and mentoring

Lade Tawak
6 min readFeb 13, 2024

Coaching or mentoring?

While many people use them interchangeably, there is a difference. In general, the outcome is the same: help someone achieve something. There might be an overlap, especially if, like me, you offer both mentoring and coaching.

The differences:


Mentorship engagements are usually directive. The mentor is talking about their experience, what they’ve done, how they did it, what they know etc in a particular area or field. They’re giving advice and telling the mentee what to do or how to approach a situation. The mentee can take lessons from this. The mentor talks more and the mentee listens more

In a coaching relationship, the coach is doing more questioning than telling. The coach doesn’t tell you what to do. They’re more listening to you and asking you questions and helping you make connections in your thoughts and experiences so you can be more clear on your goals and how to get there. The coach listens more and the coachee speaks more

Coaching is a skill that has to be learnt and developed, while mentorship can be done in diverse ways.

Level of expertise of the coach / mentor

In mentorship, the mentor is the expert in the relationship. They are more experienced in the thing they’re mentoring on: e.g. you want to transition from Law to Tech, you need a mentor who has done the same.

In coaching, the coach may not be the expert in the field. In sports, for example, a football coach may not be the best football player but they are able to guide the team to work better together and help each individual strengthen their skills. At the end of the day, the individual and team performance should get better in a qualifiable or quantifiable way.

Formality and access

Another major difference is that mentorship can be formal (e.g. a structured 3 month programme where you have 1:1 sessions with the mentor) or informal (e.g. you connect with the mentor online, engage with their resources, and you may actually never meet them or speak with them 1:1; in another case, you may have access to them and reach out when you have specific questions and they share opportunities and experiences with you).

Coaching, on the other hand, is always formal and structured; and can be a paid or free service.

The similarities:

  1. they can be long term or short term. You could have a 30 minute coaching session or a 3 month engagement or you could have a 3 month mentorship programme and a lifetime mentorship relationship with someone.
  2. the end goal is typically the same: to help the coachee or mentee achieve a goal, whether personal or professional
  3. Confidentiality, effective listening, and effective communication are important in both a coaching and a mentoring relationship
  4. Coaching and mentoring can be done individually or as a group.

When to choose which

If you’re looking for someone to tell you about their exact, specific experiences in a particular field, industry, company, or in a specific accomplishment (e.g. starting a business, scaling a business, transitioning from one field to another etc), then go with a mentor.

If you’re looking for someone to be a sounding board, to reflect with, provide guidance and so on, then go with a coach, to help you think through your goals — whether defining them or creating the steps to achieve them.

What to look out for

If you’re looking for a 1:1 coaching or mentorship relationship, here are things to look out for

Proof: Look out for their past results. Who have People they’ve mentored or coached with and can speak to their experie. Check out testimonials, talk to people.

Someone who understands your goal: You want to a mentor or a coach who actually listens to you and knows what you want to achieve. Especially with a coach, the sessions should not be about them, which is not to say they can’t share from their personal experiences.

A mentor has to be skilled or have experience in your area of interest: they have to have done what you are trying to do. If you want to be a CEO, you need a mentor who’s currently a CEO or was previously a CEO.

Action focused: the mentor or coach is supposed to drive you towards an action and you are accountable to them.

Seeks to understand your context: avoid coaches or mentors who believe they have all the right answers and it’s their way that’s the correct way and if you don’t do it that way, you’re wrong and unserious. That sounds like a cult to me.

Why you need a mentor

A mentor helps you achieve your skills or aids your personal development.

Mentorship can be a source of valuable and fresh insights that you may otherwise not have access to. You get insights into journey experiences etc

Mentorship is also a great way to connect with people. Your mentor can connect you with people they know and open you up to opportunities

How not to get a mentor

Don’t message someone asking them to be your mentor. Especially if you don’t have any relationship with them. Stop with the Hi, please be my mentor, I admire you etc.

You most likely won’t get a response, and if you do, they may just refer you to links and stuff they’ve already done.

How to get a mentor

  1. Identify potential mentors: look for people you admire, whose journeys you feel you can learn from, or someone who currently occupies a position or has elements in their life that fits into the vision you have for yourself in the future
  2. Start with the far off approach: learn from what they’ve already shared. Read and use their resources, buy their books, watch their videos, take their courses.
  3. Raise your visibility with them: Engage meaningfully with the resources you’re consuming. This could look like leaving a comment on a YouTube video summarising your highlights or new things you learnt. You could also share your learnings from a course they’ve taught on your LinkedIn and tag them. Don’t just say great post, well done.
  4. Ask a mutual connection to introduce you: Package your ask properly. Be clear on the value you’re bringing, highlight what you’ve done, what you want to do, why the potential mentor is the best person to engage on this.
  5. Reach out directly to the mentor: if there are things the mentor has shared that you can find ways to improve and aligns with your passions, goals, or interests, then do those things. When you reach out, be clear about who you are, what you want to achieve, and the questions you have
  6. Look for established mentorship programme: Join industry associations, career communities, and platforms that have structured mentorship programmes.

How to be a great mentee

Know that the mentor is not God and they don’t know everything. They may say things that aren’t applicable to you at that moment or at all or in your context. Don’t take everything hook, line, and sinker.

  1. Be open minded: while I’ve said the above, you still have to be open to what they have to say. Otherwise, why bother asking them questions
  2. Be prepared and ask questions: be clear on what it is you want to achieve and be
  3. Take notes and take action: it’s not just about talking. At the end of your conversations, have a clear idea of what you’re going to do next
  4. Give feedback: especially if you’re not having recurring conversations with the mentor. Send an email telling them the outcome of their advice, how it worked out, or why it didn’t work out and what you’re going to do next
  5. Be yourself and show up as yourself: be authentic in your engagements. If you try to be like everyone else, how do you stand out to the mentor?
  6. Be respectful of their time: show up to meetings on time, be ready
  7. Confidentiality: is also expected of you
  8. Offer help: let them know what skills you have or are looking to learn and ask how you can support them.
  9. Be appreciative: remember, they don’t have to spend this time with you, they’re choosing to. Don’t be weird and don’t ask for weird things.



Lade Tawak

Always learning. Sometimes designing and doing research. Sometimes writing and coaching. Always loved by Christ.