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What are the differences between Mentor Coaching and Coaching Supervision?


There is extensive overlap between the what happens in mentor coaching and supervision.



  • Both explicitly focus on practitioner development, and both achieve this outcome through reflecting on practice.

  • Both use experience with real clients as the focus of reflection.

  • Both explore the relationship dynamics which emerge between coach and client.



My favorite definition of mentoring is: “It’s like standing in front of a mirror with someone else, who can see things about you that you’re too familiar to notice.” (Clutterbuck, 1999).


The mirror, in the case of mentor coaching is detailed review of recorded coaching conversations by an experienced practitioner, often including evaluation of coaching competencies compared to a behavioral rubric. This demonstrates whether a coach has successfully translated coaching theory into practice with a real client, and as such are used as a key step in qualification for a coaching accreditation or credential.


Beyond the evaluative purpose, mentor coaching generates real, contextual, individualized learning. It’s no wonder that students in coaching programs often cite mentor coaching as the most valuable element of their training, the moment when they “got” coaching, and started to identify their unique coaching voice.



Supervision tends to have a somewhat broader focus than mentor coaching. Mentor coaching focuses on coaching technique and in-session behavior (such as communication, expressed empathy, quality of listening). Supervision may explore these elements, and also looks beyond what’s visible in a single session. Common areas of exploration include the inner experience of the practitioner, the influence of culture on the dynamic between coach and client, the repeating patterns in a given relationship, or across coaching relationships. These are explored not just in the coach/client relationship but also explored real-time in the coach/supervisor relationship.


There is a point in the progression of a coaching career where techniques have been mastered and integrated, where the practitioner makes them his or her own. At this point, the coach’s style becomes more individual and idiosyncratic, and less “textbook”. There’s less learning to be derived from comparison to a competency rubric at this stage of development.


Even highly competent, skilled coaches still get into sticky situations with their clients, which is where supervision starts to feel like a necessity. The patterns of when this occurs, with whom, and why, may not be visible in the detailed review of a single session. This is the kind of exploration which is better suited to the more emergent, co-exploratory dialogues which occur with a trusted supervisor.



The good news is that there's really no reason to choose between them.


I'm a huge advocate of both processes, and see them as equally indispensable in order to be of greatest service to one's clients. That said, I'm biased towards supervision for its breadth, for its "real time" relationship exploration, and for the ways in which it reaches out beyond technique into the realms of coaching presence and authenticity.


Coaches who participated in an accredited training program almost certainly have experience with mentor coaching. The same cannot be said for supervision, yet. If you feel some skepticism about supervision, and many coaches still do, I invite you to experience it yourself, and make up your own mind.

Image by dylan nolte
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