Focus: People Management - Coaching session with Stephen Bubb

Stephen Bubb is chief executive of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (Acevo). Send your questions to

Q: Is there a difference between mentoring and coaching, and do I need either?

A: There is a debate about the difference between mentoring and coaching, but I confess it confuses me. Coaching is said to be the art of facilitating the performance, learning and development of another. So the best analogy for coaching is a tennis coach.

Mentoring, on the other hand, is said to be when someone is taking on the longer-term career development of an individual. It often involves an older and more experienced person, him giving guidance and encouragement for personal and career development.

Personally, I am not sure that there is a huge difference - nothing we need get worried about.

Acevo is a great fan of mentoring - we encourage our members to acquire a mentor. We think this is particularly important in the chief executive job. You need to have someone outside the organisation with whom you can share your problems. Staff issues often arise that you can't discuss inside the organisation. Nor is it appropriate to talk about relationships with trustees with your work colleagues.

In Acevo, we teamed up with the Company of Management Consultants to provide mentoring support from its members for our chief executives. The feedback from the scheme has been hugely positive. The role of a chief executive can be a lonely one. You drive the change and you bear ultimate responsibility for the business, so you need to talk to someone. It can't be your staff or your trustees on many of the issues.

My own experience is that I can talk through very difficult issues and come to solutions very different from my initial prognoses.

However, mentoring isn't just something for chief executives. People at all levels can benefit from mentoring. This might be the advice and help of a trusted friend or colleague in a similar organisation. I think it is difficult to use an internal mentor because that way you can't be completely open about the issues.

However, I know three organisations that appoint an internal 'mentor' to younger developing staff as a way of encouraging talent.

If you belong to a professional association, you may well be able to secure mentoring support from someone you know and like from within that association.

Mentoring isn't some new-fangled management device - the ancient Greeks knew the value of it. In writing about Epicurus, philosopher Alain de Botton said: "There are few better remedies for anxiety than thought.

In airing a problem in conversation we let its essential aspects emerge.

And by knowing its character, we remove, if not the problem itself, then its secondary, aggravating characteristics of confusion, displacement and surprise."

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