Management and Leadership Series Posted by Nicola Maxwell

When we ask managers in organisations if they coach their people most will nod their heads with a resounding, “Yes”.  When we define what coaching actually is, the answer is rather different.

In many organisations, people struggle to understand the difference between coaching, training and mentoring.  The reality is that not only is the term misunderstood, the actual practice of coaching people at work is not carried out as often as it could be.

This is the first in a series of four articles on the subject of coaching. This article highlights the benefits of coaching in the workplace.

So what’s the real difference between coaching, mentoring and training?

Training is usually more directive in its approach as it involves imparting knowledge.

Mentoring is about giving guidance and advice or making suggestions, often to assist an individual’s career development. A mentor is usually someone with experience in the area the individual is seeking advice.

Coaching occurs when the manager draws out solutions and ideas from their team member with the overall goal of maximizing their performance. It involves less telling, and more asking and listening on the part of the manager.

Coaching shouldn’t be seen as an added extra; it’s integral to the role of the manager. It can be planned or done more spontaneously, whenever the situation demands it. For this reason, it happens on a daily basis. It also doesn’t need to take a lot of time – anything from a few minutes to deal with a relatively straightforward question you’re asked, through to using it during a 1-hour career planning discussion.

What then are the real benefits of coaching?

1. Encourages development

According to the Centre for Creative Leadership, 70% of our learning should come from ‘experiential learning’, i.e. through day-to-day tasks, challenges and practice. Coaching falls into this category as it can be used when explaining a task, assigning a piece of work or when reviewing how someone is progressing with their work.

Simply by asking your team member a few coaching questions, you can create a learning opportunity for them in that moment. For example, “What could you do differently here?”, “What other options do you have?”, “What else should you think about?”

If there is enough time for them to work out their own answer and it would be good for their development to take the initiative on this, coach, don’t tell!

2. Empowers individuals

Do you find your team members come to ask you the same question they asked you a few weeks before? If so, there’s a simple reason why this happens.

According to research originally done by IBM, when we’re simply given an answer our recall of that information drops to 70% after 3 weeks, and shockingly, to just 10% after 3 months! It’s no wonder you’re asked the same question over and over again! Try to coach and you’ll find that people’s recall level improves and they won’t need to come back again and again.

For example, “What are your initial thoughts on how you could tackle this?”, “Talk me through what you’ve considered already”, “What did you do last time that worked well?”

3. Builds confidence

If you find that you have to work hard to encourage your team members to come forward with new ideas you’ll need to build their confidence first.

If people are continually told what to do, it can stifle their creativity and initiative to the point where they feel their own ideas have little value. Through coaching, you can encourage them to come up with their own solutions that, if handled positively, can genuinely help to build their confidence.

For all of these reasons, we believe coaching is much more than just the latest management buzzword. It has the potential to bring huge benefits to you and your team.

If you want to find out why it’s often under-used by managers read our article “Why don’t managers coach as often as they should”?

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