What’s Better for You? Peer Coaching or Mentoring?

Posted 07.28.2021

You want to accelerate your development as a leader in your organization and think having a mentor to guide you could be a really good thing. You may be right about that but it can often be hard to find a good mentor. If that’s the case for you, what are your options?

If you’re committed to getting better and better, I’d suggest you both get and be a great peer coach. That doesn’t mean you should quit working on landing a mentoring relationship, but there’s a lot that peer coaching can do for you before, during and after any mentoring relationship you might have.

In this post, I’m going to summarize the difference between peer coaching and mentoring, the best uses of each and help you figure out which choice is better for you right now.

So, first, what’s the difference?

Peer Coaching

Peer coaching is when two colleagues at roughly similar levels in their organization agree to spend regular time in coaching conversations with each other. Their goals are to help each other pull the lens back, assess what’s going on in their worlds and identify any steps they need to take or adjustments they need to make to be successful in their roles. And, the good news is that peer coaching is free and widely available.

It works well when the peer coaches are in the same organization but not in the same exact function. That gives them enough context to be familiar with each other’s environments but not so deep into the same environment that it becomes easy to get lost in the weeds of everything that’s going on day in and day out. If they can learn how to ask each other simple open-ended questions and then get out of the way to let each other answer, peer coaches can provide a lot of value to each other. I’ve been using and teaching peer coaching in my leadership development programs for years and have seen the enormous difference it can make for thousands of leaders. It enables them to give space to each other to think out loud, assess what’s working and what’s not and then identify next steps.


In a mentoring relationship, the role of a mentor is usually to guide and advise the protégé. (By the way, I hate the word mentee as it sounds like a little chocolate treat you eat after dinner.) While peer coaching is mainly about asking questions that help your partner come up with their own answers and insights, mentoring is often about providing answers, perspective and opportunities. Both kinds of relationships can be invaluable; they’re just very different.

In a typical mentor-protégé relationship, the mentor is the more experienced party and the protégé is less so, at least in the domain under question. While a good mentor will ask questions of the protégé that make them think there is usually a strong expectation that the mentor will point out opportunities to leverage and pitfalls to avoid. Great mentors take the protégé under their wing and advocate for or create opportunities that will accelerate the protégé’s growth. The all-time great mentors are known for their mentoring and the legacy of talent they create through it.

Because the most sought-after mentors are usually more senior people in their organizations, their time and attention are spread across a lot of commitments so they tend to be very selective in who they choose to mentor. That can make it challenging to get into a good mentoring relationship.

Which One is Better?

So, which one – peer coaching or mentoring – is better for you? Honestly, the answer, depending on what you’re trying to do and when you’re trying to do it, is either one or both. To help you decide where to invest your energy right now, I’ve summed things up in this table:

When you’re ready and can land the right relationship, having a good mentor can be a game changer, but you don’t have to wait on a mentor to change the game. Peer coaching is a game changer that’s available to you right now.

You may be thinking, “That’s great, but how do I get started?” Good news – that’s what I’m going to cover in next week’s post – how to get and be a great peer coach. If I’ve pushed your “I’m intrigued” button, I’ll see you back here next week for a big reveal.

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