Coach, Mentor, Consultant, Trainer – know the difference

One of the questions I routinely encounter is: ‘What’s the difference between a coach and a mentor?’ Throw in ‘trainer’ and ‘consultant’ and I get called all four of those. Let’s set the record straight!

It’s a good question because these are distinct services and each has its place. Of course, a combination of them can, too, be the best package for your organisation. Any easy guide looks like this:




Obtain a specific skill


One-way (instruction)

Best for...     

Technical upskilling

Consulting Solve a specific issue One-way (autonomous) Outsourced problem-solving




Change perception & behaviour


Two-way (questioning)


Building self/team-awareness & non-technical capability

Mentoring Leverage experience Two-way (guiding) Gaining role-specific clarity


Let’s begin with coaching and mentoring. Coaching is most familiar, perhaps, in the sporting sense, but it can be applied equally to individuals and business. The activities of the coach have a good deal of similarities regardless of the context in which they are applied. For example, why did Steve Jobs have a coach? For the same reason Jason Day does; the coach can see things they couldn’t when their profession gets on top of them, they get off track, feel unfocused, require new ways to approach problems, need to be challenged, or simply need the space to get stuff off their chest.

The coach can provide feedback, ask questions, raise awareness and challenge behaviour all anchored to the achievement of an overarching strategy or an agreed behavioural framework. They provide an ‘external eye’ and new perspectives which can help identify issues and stimulate solutions. A famous story goes that when Tiger Woods was struggling with his bunker play, instead of the obvious solution to train to become better at that skill, his coach advised “how about we practice avoiding the bunkers?” A strategic shift.

Mentoring is different to coaching yet can use similar delivery frameworks given the two-way, client-driven agenda methodology. If the coach is the provocateur the mentor is the guide. The coach gives you the mindset, belief & strategy to climb a mountain; the mentor has climbed that exact mountain. Through story-telling, insight and specific experience, the mentor can accelerate the growth and ambition of the individual.

My personal approach combines coaching and mentoring in order to break comfort zones, challenge perspectives and build strategic capability to get a better look at new possibilities.

So what of training? That’s a teaching job and imparts specific skills that are usually technical in nature or process-based capabilities.  Meanwhile, consulting is the provision of a solution to a specific problem that is not part of the skill set within the client organisation. Think of it this way; the trainer will teach your staff how to use your new software platform; the consultant will design it, tweak it and fix it when it breaks. In a professional services example; the trainer will teach you about HR policy and procedure whereas the consultant will design the HR framework that links to the organisational objectives.

Training and consulting tend to be services which can be required at any stage of a business (and quite often, at the early stages of getting an organisation off the ground) when a one-way, ‘tell’ approach suits. Coaching & mentoring become necessary when companies need a two-way ‘ask & tell’ approach as they reach inflection points such as stagnating growth, loss of energy and focus, ownership transitions, merger and acquisition activity and other significant change events.

In the next blog, I’ll take a closer look at one of the major targets of coaching. They’re big ones, too. Elephants.


Chris Pezzimenti