Coaching Compared

There are any number of ways in which we can help people at work perform better and solve problems; coaching is just one. Let’s consider the ways it may be similar or different to some of the other obvious techniques. Specifically, let’s look at:

Coaching and Teaching

Coaching and Training

Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching and Counselling

Coaching and Teaching

We know from our own experience at school that teaching tends to be delivered to groups, to a predetermined lesson plan, with people of mixed abilities developing their understanding as best they can.

Of course, teaching can be given on a one to one basis and there are countless people who have benefited from being taught or tutored in this way.

However, the dominant party in the teacher-pupil relationship is the teacher. The teacher’s role is to pass on knowledge, facts and wisdom. Our role, as pupils, is to do what we can to soak it all up.

We have little scope to set or follow our own agenda and we have to try to interpret what the teacher is saying and make sense of it against our own experience.

Coaching on the other hand is more often than not delivered one to one. It is the coachee (the person being coached) who is best placed to decide on the issues to be discussed and to set the agenda. As coaches, we are not there to provide input or advice or to tell the coachee how we would do things. Instead our role is to probe and encourage and help the coachee make sense of things for him or her self.

This can be a difficult concept to grasp, so let’s look at a comparison. We awake in the morning and stumble across the the bathroom to begin the first major task of the day: to look presentable.

For some this will mean dragging a razor across their face and a comb through their hair, whilst others will concentrate on applying make up and hair spray etc. All of this activity would be almost impossible without our trusty friend – the bathroom mirror.

But does the mirror say “Ooh I wouldn’t do it like that” or “that’s not how we usually shave here” or “you’ve never done your hair like that before”? Of course not! But the mirror does help us to make sense of what’s going on and to achieve our aim – in this case, to look presentable.

When we are coaching we are trying to perform the same function. The best coaches will hold up a ‘mirror’ so that people can develop a deep sense of self-awareness. When people are highly self-aware they have more choices about how to move issues forward.

Coaching and Training

With this in mind we can see that coaching is different to training. Training is concerned with helping people to perform in their roles of course, but again it is centred on the trainer and the subject matter, not the individual.

Coaching and Mentoring

Coaching and mentoring share many of the same skills and abilities but are usually delivered by different people. Mentors, typically, are senior people drawn from outside the line management relationship who take us aside and enable us to benefit from their experience.

If it is coaching we want however, we are probably best advised not to seek a more experienced person who may be overly tempted to persuade us to ‘do it their way’.

Given that we can now see that coaching is wholly concerned with drawing out and not putting in, we can also see how it is possible for anyone with the right skills to coach us – their position in the organization is irrelevant.

Coaching and Counselling

When we consider how coaching compares with counselling we need to think about the limitations of coaching. Coaching in organizations is concerned with helping people with performing well in their jobs, not in dealing with deep-rooted problems from the past.

It may be that as we coach we do uncover some painful or personal issues, but we need to know when to bring in the appropriate expertise. Many effective coaches have never trained as counsellors or therapists, but can still deliver excellent coaching support.

Arguably this exercise in comparison is academic. Do we really need to worry what method is used to develop people as long as they are being developed?

The short answer is no, but we do need to understand the unique qualities of coaching so that we can use it with choice and with greater care.

In reality good coaches draw on all of these different approaches as they work with individuals and will not be concerned with whether they are coaching or teaching at any one point in time. However, they will be wholly concerned with using the right approach based on the needs of the individual and the demands of the situation.