Coaching vs Mentoring: Knowing The Difference and When to Apply Each Leadership Style

Just as great athletes constantly seek out great coaches to guide them and help improve their skills and performance, it’s vital for professionals to seek out their mentors. You should seek mentors with excellent leadership skills to help you expand and refine your skills. However, you might hesitate to seek out mentorship from those you look up to due to assuming, “why would they take time out of their busy schedule to help me?”. How likely is it that they’d want to take the time to mentor you?

Actually, we think it may be highly likely. “We” are Chris Dyer and Scott Jeffrey Miller. Chris is the founder of highly successful background check firm PeopleG2 and an inspiring speaker, author, consultant, and master mentor. Scott is a 25-year associate of FranklinCovey, currently serving as their senior advisor on thought leadership, and a highly sought-after speaker, author, and podcast host. Neither of us would be where we are today without the support of some amazing mentors.

And neither of us would have gotten that mentoring if we hadn’t asked. It’s easy to assume that a potential mentor would say “no,” but both of us have found that most people want to help. Today both of us serve as mentors, but we also still seek out support as mentees. Just as great athletes constantly seek out great coaching, you should seek out mentors who will help you stretch and hone your skills.

To celebrate the release of Scott’s new book, Master Mentors, Volume 2: 30 Transformative Insights from our Greatest Minds, we thought we would share some stories from our own careers about mentoring and being mentored.

Bruce Williams Mentoring: Influencing Anonymous Mentees

Mentoring doesn’t have to be a formalized relationship. One of Scott’s most influential mentors was an individual Scott never met: Bruce Williams, a talk radio host. At age 12, Scott started listening to Bruce’s show every night, hearing Bruce talk about a wide range of issues, from starting a business to writing a will. For over a decade, Scott listened as Bruce shared his own wisdom and advised callers on questions about business, family, legal, educational and other concerns.

In Master Mentors, Volume 2, Scott writes that today, some 40 years later, “I find Bruce remains the most influential mentor in my life—more than any relative, leader, priest, or professor.” Yet Bruce passed away in 2019, and Scott never met him directly. Because of this experience, Scott believes that great mentors can be at arm’s length, such as authors, keynote speakers, podcasters, and more.

Direct relationships with mentors are valuable, but not absolutely necessary. When you identify someone whose way of thinking is insightful and inspiring, follow them.

Read those books, listen to the podcasts — absorb as much as you can from them, even if you never meet them face-to-face.

Kim Shepherd Coaching: Unexpected Value

Chris was fortunate not only to know one of his mentors but also to collaborate with her on multiple projects. Kim Shepherd was CEO of the innovative recruiting firm Decision Toolbox, and Chris met her at a CEO roundtable. In May 2021, they published Remote Work: Redesign Processes, Practices and Strategies to Engage a Remote Workforce, which builds on their combined experience running successful remote companies.

While Chris has used the Strengthsfinder system over the years in assessing individual potential employees, one of the mentoring tips Kim shared with him is to use the system to identify your company’s overall strengths and weaknesses. Chris shares this story in his book The Power of Company Culture: How Any Business Can Build a Culture that Improves Productivity, Performance and Profits.

Kim took all the identified strengths of all Decision Toolbox employees and plotted them using a spreadsheet. That enabled her to identify where the company was robust and where it could use shoring up.

Chris likes the fact that this method combines research-based processes while still emphasizing individuality. He tried it at PeopleG2, hoping to pinpoint strengths to look for when bringing new hires into the company.

It did. In addition, after about 36 interviews and 10 hires, Chris realized that the process had an unexpected positive impact. PeopleG2 was becoming more diverse. The new hires brought backgrounds, education, and hobbies that were different from the existing staff. They also increased PeopleG2’s gender and racial diversity. It makes sense — if you want people who have strengths your team lacks, they have to be different than your existing team.

Chester Elton Mentoring: A Study in Orange

Chris and Scott both consider Chester Elton a mentor. Chester is a thought leader on company culture and co-author of several books with his partner, Adrian Gostick. The books include Leading with Gratitude, All In, and the most recent, Anxiety at Work. Chester has been a guest multiple times on Chris’ podcast, TalentTalk Radio, and Scott featured Chester in a chapter in Master Mentors, Volume 2.

One of the things Chris and Scott admire about Chester is his ability to create a unique personal brand that carries through most of his work. The brand centers on a carrot.

Chester and Adrian’s work involves recognition and rewards — the carrots that engage and motivate employees to perform at a high level.

Other books by Chester and Adrian include The Carrot Principle and the 24-Carrot Manager. When Chester delivers a keynote speech, he wears orange and brings soft toy carrots to throw out to the audience.

The most recent book is a departure from the carrot analogy and takes on an important and challenging topic: Anxiety at Work. As the sources of anxiety in our world increase, more and more people are breaking down the taboos associated with talking about mental wellness in the workplace. In the Master Mentor chapter on Chester, Scott relates a story about an employee.

This employee considered Scott a mentor, but in the end, Scott learned from the employee as well. During the initial employment interview, the employee shared with Scott that he suffered from several significant mental and emotional challenges, including sometimes-debilitating anxiety. Scott admired the employee’s courage and willingness to be vulnerable, and so hired him.

While this employee has proven to be a valuable member of Scott’s organization, there are challenges. Every few months the employee goes through a difficult period that may last a week or longer. During those periods he often stays home from work. Scott admits that once upon a time, he would have considered letting such an employee go. However, the employee helped Scott become more aware of the challenges people face with mental illness.

Scott also credits Chester’s book, along with personal conversations and podcast interviews, with helping him become a more compassionate and supportive leader. Scott learned how to leverage the employee’s strengths (which he describes as “redonkulously vast and valuable”) while also understanding the boundaries needed by the employee to manage his anxiety.

Vote Yourself Off the Island

As a leader, it is easy to find yourself alone on an island. As Chris and Kim wrote in Remote Work,

you can share some vulnerability with employees, but too much transparency can undermine your credibility.

To get yourself off the island, you should build a network of peers and mentors who are external to your company. The peers are professional friends who will listen to you blow off steam or complain about situations.

Coaching vs Mentoring: What’s the Difference?

It’s important to know differences in coaching vs mentoring, so you can avoid confusing them later.


Mentors are people you look up to and who have wisdom to share. In addition to helping you solve your trickier problems, a mentor can reassure you that what you’re experiencing is completely normal.


Coaching is more precise about productivity and asks the person being coached to perform well defined responsibilities better.

You can learn from and emulate some mentors from afar, but you also need to find some close by — and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

Scott Jeffrey Miller:

A veteran of Disney and numerous political campaigns, for the past 24 years best-selling management author Scott Jeffery Miller has been with the FranklinCovey Company, eventually serving as their CMO for nearly a decade. He recently made the transition to Executive Vice President of Thought Leadership where he’s responsible for focusing on and advancing the impact of FranklinCovey’s renowned thought leaders while also continuing to write and speak himself.

By Chris Dyer and Scott Jeffrey Miller