This question is often asked and is an important one. Here are some thoughts to add to this kind of conversation.

Coaching in business and leadership has become popular! So much so, that you often hear when leaders describe some of their work with: ‘I coach others’. Great! But is it truly ‘coaching’? Or is it more of a mix of mentoring, supervising and coaching?

In this post I’ll explore some of the basics how coaching differs from other important approaches.

Imagine for a moment a soccer game. Everything goes as expected until suddenly, one of the players picks up the ball and starts running past the opposing team and belly flops the ball behind the goal keeper’s line. Touchdown, he shouts. A whistle is blown, no one cheers, more likely, you will hear boos! What might have been fun and exhilarating for him, was upsetting and confusing for everyone else. There are all kinds of ball games: soccer, football, basketball, rugby, baseball, etc. They all have a clear set of rules that make the game effective and fun. And when the rules are broken, there’s the referee!

In leadership, no one will blow the whistle when you ‘break the rules’ of the approach you are advertising vs. what you are actually doing! Knowing the differences frees you up to apply the most effective approach for a specific purpose! There is a clarity of expectation of how you work together and who is responsible for what. It’s confusing (and unprofessional…) when you call everything ‘coaching’ (maybe just because it sounds better?!). Each approach has its strength and purpose. But it can also lose value when it’s diluted. 

A Basic Overview: How Coaching Differs

Coaching, mentoring, supervising, counseling and discipling have similarities (s.a. active listening, focus on the other person, asking good questions, etc.), but they each have a specific purpose and are useful in a particular context. 

This is especially important in formal work relationships and when a leader carries more than one hat. If you are someone’s supervisor and also are their coach, you may quickly find some conflict of interest.

I have found that in formal work relationships it’s a must to work with a clearly agreed upon approach, s.a. as a coaching agreement, a psychological agreement, a job description,  a memo of understanding etc. Discerning and deciding together which approach would be more effective, frees you and the other person to work together more effectively. I also know that as a supervisor or manager, more empowering will take place when I intentionally use coaching skills; but I won’t call my supervising ‘coaching’.

Let’s serve our colleagues and clients well by being clear with what we offer and how we work! Let’s NOT call everything we do ‘coaching’!

Hold yourself accountable and blow the whistle when you mix things up!

Reflection & Action:

  • Should you or should you not address something that raises a concern as a supervisor, but might not raise a concern when you are a coach? Should you become directive? A coach can be direct without being directive.
  • Who has the most ‘talk-time’ in the relationship? A coach will give around 80% of the time to the other, silence being a key ingredient in the conversation.
  • What if you have this depth of experience as a mentor and could impart your wisdom, but have agreed to be a coach instead? A coach believes the other ‘knows’ and their insight can be drawn out without imposing their own. A coach knows that telling (or sharing their experience) can disempower. You can only coach experience, not knowledge.
  • What difference is there in how you hold a colleague accountable for work areas as a supervisor, compared to how you hold a colleague accountable as a coach? A coach holds the other accountable to what they expressed to be held accountable to.
  • What should you do as a coach when your client begins sharing some deeper trauma and you have also some counseling experience? A coach works within ethical boundaries. A coach recognizes and addresses this conflict in order to help the client find a suitable solution (s.a. a therapist or counselor).
  • What model will you multiply, when you constantly switch between approaches? What impact will this have on those you coach, mentor, supervise? A coach uses coach specific competencies intentionally and consistently. This empowers others to learn from that approach and model.