A Career Coach, a Manager, and a Mentor Walk Into A Bar…

The distinctions between managing, mentoring, and career coaching in the workplace

Career Coaching vs Mentoring vs Managing — It’s On!

You bring your career coach, your mentor, and your manager with you into a bar.

“What can I get you?” the bartender asks. You look to each of your companions for guidance.

“We’ve budgeted enough money for each person to order $15 of food or drink. Here’s my credit card, open a tab and put your order on that,” says your manager.

“They have a great happy hour special with a dozen wings and a whatever beer is on tap for $15, I say that’s the best option,” explains your mentor.

“Well, how are you going to figure out what to order?” asks your career coach.

Three Distinct (and conflicting) Roles

There are major problems with the traditional notion of your “boss” being the only person in charge of your work and career. The workplace has evolved significantly from traditional military-based reporting structures of the past.

There are at least three distinct and conflicting roles a boss has traditionally been responsible for which have clear benefits when handled separately: a manager, a mentor, and a career coach.


A manager has a direct report they're responsible for. For the direct report, the manager acts on behalf of the company regarding performance, benefits, compensation, promotions, etc.

Success For a Manager: Ensure their direct report has whatever he or she needs to be productive for the company as well as taking appropriate action if their direct report is not meeting expectations.


A mentor has an apprentice/mentee who wishes to become more knowledgable and experienced in a domain that the mentor has expertise in.

Success For a Mentor: The mentor shares knowledge and guidance in the specific domain the apprentice/mentee is looking to become more proficient in.

Career Coach

A career coach is a trusted peer of their coachee, acting as a thought partner, sounding board, and neutral party, aiding in growing their coachee’s career.

Success For a Career Coach: The career coach measures his or her success by whether the coachee is able to find growth opportunities, define career goals, and make progress toward accomplishing those career goals.

Career Coaching — It’s a Big Effin’ Deal

Career Coach: The Ish That Matters Most 🏆

Turns out, there’s an endless pile of good stuff that comes from treating career coaching as a completely separate role (and ideally a completely separate person) from the manager that you report to. When it comes to anything that’s a big deal for your career, neutrality and trust are the highest priority.

Having someone you feel completely safe and honest talking to about career decisions is invaluable, big time. However, this can be impossible — or at least extremely difficult — to do with your boss while maintaining 100% honesty and psychological safety.

Trying to vent about your frustrations or get serious personal advice from the same person who has the ability to give you a raise or fire you can be a major conflict. You can have an excellent relationship with your boss AND there still may be topics that you aren’t 100% open about or you aren’t 100% confident in your boss’s “unbiased” opinion around.

Think about how you talk with your friends or trusted coworkers regarding what has been so damn frustrating at work recently…now compare that to how you would talk about that same issue with your boss. Smart money bets those two conversations are quite different!

A career coach is someone you can talk to like a good friend AND who is invested in helping you find positive ways to improve yourself and those around you.

I have plenty more to share about the benefits of career coaching, how to find a great career coach, and how to be a great career coach; I’ll save that for other stories…keep a lookout for future stories going into much more detail about the infinite positive feedback loop that is career coaching!

Find Mentors and Career Coaches Separate From Your Manager! 🔍

Treating career coaching and mentoring as separate roles is a game-changer for your career and the careers of others. The roles of manager, mentor, and career coach can have conflicting agendas, which may severely limit their effectiveness.

So, go and find other people to be a career coach or mentor! Offer to be a career coach or mentor for others! If you manage people, encourage them to find others to serve as career coaches or mentors!

From my years of spreading coaching around the workplace, I’ve found career coaching and mentoring to ultimately have the biggest benefits to the people doing the coaching and mentoring. So seriously, make it happen, I promise you won’t regret it!



Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store