What is coaching?

Coaching is broadly defined as giving someone professional advice on how to attain their goals. Coaching is a style of mentoring that relies on questioning, listening, challenging and providing feedback to the individual.

When you start mentoring someone, it can be tempting to fall into a trap of telling that person what to do when they come to you with issues, especially if you have experience in managing people, or maybe have even experienced something similar in your own professional life.

Management as a style relies more on telling or instructing a person on what they should do: essentially solving the problem for them, whereas coaching requires the learner to solve their own problem through asking the right questions, giving them space to talk through the problem, and steering them to find the answer for themselves.

In essence, managing is directive – telling and instructing – and coaching is non-directive – listening to understand, paraphrasing and reflecting.

The Coaching Spectrum

Coaching Spectrum

The Spectrum of Coaching Skills

The Spectrum of Coaching Skills was coined by Myles Downey and gives a good visual of what directive and non-directive mentoring looks like. Some people will naturally veer towards a directive style, others a non-directive, and many people will work somewhere in the middle – giving feedback, making suggestions, and offering advice.

In general, best results arise when the mentor takes on a more non-directive mode of coaching, so that the mentee takes on the responsibility of learning to solve the problem themselves. This is achieved through listening, reflecting, asking questions and summarising; by encouraging the mentee to discuss their issues, the mentor will help to guide them into their own understanding, rather than telling them the answer.

Nevertheless, because mentors work in a similar professional field to the mentee, there may be cases where a more directive approach can be useful, where specific advice gained from experience in the same field can aid a mentee in their understanding.

For more on coaching, read our GROW model of coaching.

Head Of Product Marketing