Coaching, Mentoring, Training, and Counselling: Defining The Difference

Coaching, mentoring, training, and counselling are terms used interchangeably to address the issues in organisations. They are quite different modalities, however, and can cause confusion or misunderstanding to the required outcomes and the type of professional required to be engaged.

The difference between coaching, mentoring, training, and counselling needs to be well understood in organisations to ensure that the greatest impact is made on the employee’s development and on improving the organisation’s ability to perform successfully.

These leadership approaches can give insight into navigating complex situations to maximise positive outcomes for individuals and groups alike.

Let’s explain what each of these interventions entails to help guide your decisions when it comes time for implementing them inside and outside your organisation.


This oft-misused term has multiple meanings in a workplace. Fundamentally, coaching is a non-directive, evidence-based, goal and solution-focused process of professional development that promotes and sustains long-term changes in behaviour and wellbeing for personal and professional success.

Coaching can be used to help leaders improve their performance by providing them with insights to increase self-awarenessmake better decisions, and building and strengthening relationships both within and externally to the organisation. It can also strengthen team dynamics by developing and enhancing trust.

Coaching can be used as a developmental tool for all levels of leadership within the organisation: from first line to C-suite. Essentially “unlocking” what a client has within – coaching can help the client elicit and develop those elements that can lead them to success.


Mentoring is an effective practice in the workplace to help executives and leaders build their skills or assist with career management, covering areas such as leadership, crisis management, and emotional intelligence.

Mentoring and coaching are two distinct practices that have different approaches to helping individuals develop their skills. Mentors provide advice based on direct experience, while coaches focus more on goal attainment through a series of sessions.

A mentor can be invaluable in providing support for mentees looking to acquire new knowledge or succeed in a chosen field.  Mentoring typically takes place over an extended period, whereas a defined number of sessions usually define a Coaching series.

Training / Learning

Training enables employees to do their jobs better and more efficiently, and where most effective, creates an environment of continuous learning and improvement.

Executives and managers benefit from training as it gives them a clearer understanding of their team’s capabilities. It allows staff members to stay updated on new processes, technologies, and trends.

Training programs become a valuable asset that allows leaders to use resources wisely while helping employees reach their full potential.

Training, typically, provides employees with the opportunity to learn from either an internal or external resource —often an expert from within the industry or a consultant who is brought in from outside to train a company’s workforce on a new system or technique or an internal resource either providing on the job training (often mistaken for “coaching”) or in an online or classroom setting.

Training may be conducted through lectures and demonstrations, with learners taking notes and working with each other in small groups to practice what they have learned.


Counselling is a directive approach used to improve performance that falls below standards. It involves addressing challenges and situations from the past and present, which may include confrontation or instruction of behaviour or attitudinal change.

The goal of counselling employees is to help them manage performance issues so performance standards can be upheld and job satisfaction can be achieved.

Counselling focuses on professional development but differs from coaching in that it focuses on an issue requiring “fixing” with consequences if not resolved through improvement in performance or workplace outcomes.

Knowing the difference between coaching, mentoring, training, and counselling is essential so that you can correctly identify which process is needed in your organisation or workplace. Depending on what goal you are trying to achieve, each of these four approaches differs and should be used accordingly.

What has been your experience using these various modalities?