Are You Coaching, Mentoring Or Training Your Employees? Distinctions New Managers Need to Know

Nancy B. Alston

In all my years training managers how to coach their staff, common misconceptions always arise regarding what we actually mean by coaching in a business setting.

If you are planning to improve your coaching skills with your employees to help develop their potential, here’s what you need to know first.  

Mentoring is not Coaching although there are many similarities.  

Like Coaching, Mentoring can be formal or informal. Like Coaching, it’s a positive relationship, often between a more experienced person and a less experienced person. Like Coaching, Mentoring is also done with respect and wisdom and is valued by the other person.  

However unlike Coaching, Mentors provide advice and solutions and tell what they think the other person should do. Key words are: “provide advice and solutions”  If you find yourself providing advice to your employees you are not coaching.More on this in a moment.    

Counseling in business is not Coaching.

Counseling is where either:    

a) A staff member receives disciplinary action and is counseled on their behaviour and that terminology is used very much in the military and police force or  

b) Your staff are having serious personal problems and need to speak to a qualified counselor who specialises in that area.   Unlike Coaching, Counseling focuses on past issues and ends in the present. Key words are “disciplinary action, personal problems and past to present”.  

So if you find yourself having in-depth conversations with staff about personal issues and trying to provide guidance, chances are you are not Coaching, you are Counseling them.

Training is different again.

A trainer tells and demonstrates. Often it’s a one to many scenario and the trainer has a license to be quite prescriptive in his/her language and directive in their actions. Key words are “tells and demonstrates”.  

Now this is where students often say-“hey wait a minute Juliette. What about a sports coach? Their job is to tell and demonstrate the techniques”. Well that’s true. That’s how Sports Coaching typically works. The Coach tells, plans the play, demonstrates the techniques and gets the team to act on it. That sports coaching.  

But that’s not what Coaching employees is all about and if you visit any Executive, Business or Life coaching school or check in with the International Coach Federation which is the leading body for professional coaching world wide you’ll soon see that professional coaching in business demands a different approach to your regular sports coach.   Read this very carefully because this is the simplest yet often the most contentious concept for managers to grasp yet it goes to the very heart of who you will or will not become as a coach for your people.   Coaching in the workplace does not provide advice. It does not spend a lot of time looking into the past. It does not rely on a one way flow of telling and instructing.  

Life, Business and Executive coaching all:

a) Start in the present (not the past)

b) Use listening and powerful questioning techniques to understand where your employee is now and where they want to go so that they determine how they will get there.

c) Are based on the philosophy that your staff already know the answers to the majority of their challenges but lack confidence or insight to back their own judgment and take action.

d) Focus on unlocking the employees’ inner wisdom so that they can solve their own problems with confidence.  

Business, Executive and Life Coaches all know that in the majority of circumstances, their coachee (staff member) has either experienced a similar problem before or know someone else who has or have the ability to come up with a variety of options and chose a solution with a little help. The coach’s job is not to provide the solution or give advice (as a Mentor would) but to question the person to help them find and seize opportunities for themselves so that they develop their own ability to find their own solutions.  

It is surprising, how a few quick guiding questions can help others on the path to see the opportunities around them and give them confidence and insight to explore them.  

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