What is Coaching, Teaching, Mentoring, Counseling?

Growing up in the Army, we would often use “coach, teach, mentor” in the same breath, yet make little distinction between the three. There are distinctions between those and in this blog I’ll add ‘counseling’ for comparison as well.

The purpose here is to offer guidance on the most appropriate technique for talent development. We’ll start with some definitions and then look at some example uses.

Counseling: In a nutshell, consider counseling as a view of the past. It’s most apt when some behavior is unacceptable and a warning and/or corrective action is required. When doing so, its important as the counselor to state what you or others have observed – that it’s the behavior being addressed here and not the person. The distinction is not merely semantics, but helps protect the session from being a ‘character attack.’ The other important note here is that there may be a very legitimate or understandable reason for the behavior. Remember that that the best leaders view and care for the whole person. For example, a string of tardiness may be the result of new requirements at home such as a change in early morning child care and a leader’s help or flexibility may be all that’s required. (Coaching is highly recommended as a follow-up.)

Mentoring: This is the one perhaps most often confused with coaching. Mentoring is typically providing advice based on the mentor’s personal experience. It’s “here’s how I’ve become successful.” While mentorship is very valuable, its important to note that one person’s path to success may not always work for another. There are issues of personality, competence, industry, and generation at play. The best example, is perhaps when an experienced employee helps a newer employee navigate an organization. A good mentor can make all the difference in onboarding a new employee or helping one get started in a new industry.

Teaching: This is imparting a new skill or education upon another. It can be used for tactical or strategic application and is the most common tool in talent development. Teaching needs no application example, but its important that what is taught is relevant to the job-to-be-done, timely, and well-supported by senior leadership. It must be seen by the student as something that enhances his/her career or the purpose clearly tied to the success of the organization.

Coaching: This is when the coachee is in the drivers seat, two hands on the wheel, looking forward, and fully aware of his/her car’s instrumentation. (The coach is in the passenger’s seat as co-pilot) Coaching may be the most effective form of talent development today. The coach is responsible to help the driver discover where they want to go based on their own description of success. The coach’s main tools are questioning and instruments for self-awareness. It may be the most powerful form of development. When successful, a coach builds intrinsic motivation within the coachee and provides a supportive, yet objective partner to help build new habits through accountability. It’s worth noting that in the private sector, ‘duds’ in the workplace don’t get coaches. They’re expensive. Coaching is most often used for those who display high potential. So if you’re offered coaching, it should be a badge of honor. A great time to get coaching is several weeks before and for several weeks after assuming a new job.

I hope this helps and look forward to your feedback and experiences with any of the developmental techniques above.

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