What is coaching?

Put simply, coaching is a process that aims to improve performance and focuses on the ‘here and now’ rather than on the distant past or future. While there are many different models of coaching, here we are not considering the ‘coach as expert’ but, instead, the coach as a facilitator of learning.There is a huge difference between teaching someone and helping them to learn. In coaching, fundamentally, the coach is helping the individual to improve their own performance: in other words, helping them to learn. 

Good coaches believe that the individual always has the answer to their own problems but understands that they may need help to find the answer.

The Differences Between Teaching, Coaching, Mentoring and Counselling

Although teaching, coaching, mentoring and counselling all share some key characteristics and skills, they are nonetheless quite different and it’s important to be aware of the differences.

Teaching and Training

Teaching and training involve an expert teacher who imparts knowledge to their students.

Although the best teachers will use participative and interactive techniques, like coaching, there is very definitely an imbalance of knowledge, with the teacher as expert knowing the ‘right answer’.

Coaching

Coaching involves the belief that the individual has the answers to their own problems within them. 

The coach is not a subject expert, but rather is focused on helping the individual to unlock their own potential. The focus is very much on the individual and what is inside their head. A coach is not necessarily a designated individual: anyone can take a coaching approach with others, whether peers, subordinates or superiors.

The key skill of coaching is asking the right questions to help the individual work through their own issues.

Mentoring

Mentoring is similar to coaching. There is general agreement that a mentor is a guide who helps someone to learn or develop faster than they might do alone.

In the workplace mentors are often formally designated as such by mutual agreement, and outside of an individual’s line management chain. They usually have considerable experience and expertise in the individual’s line of business. 

A mentoring relationship usually focuses on the future, career development, and broadening an individual’s horizons, unlike coaching which tends to focus more on the here and now and solving immediate problems or issues.

Counselling

Counselling is closer to a therapeutic intervention. It focuses on the past, helping the individual to overcome barriers and issues from their past and move on. Here, the focus may be either internal or external. 

Conclusion

The term ‘coaching’ means many different things to different people, but is generally about helping individuals to solve their own problems and improve their own performance.

It doesn’t matter whether coaching is used in sport, life or business, the good coach believes that individuals always have the answer to their own problems. They just need help to unlock them.