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Coaching is a form of development in which an experienced person, called a coach, supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance. The learner is sometimes called a coachee. Occasionally, coaching may mean an informal relationship between two people, of whom one has more experience and expertise than the other and offers advice and guidance as the latter learns; but coaching differs from mentoring by focusing on specific tasks or objectives, as opposed to more general goals or overall development.

Many ‘coaches’ will recognise significant overlap between their role and that of a teacher. This may be particularly true of sports coaches, who are often highly skilled in their particular sport and looking to hone the technique and skills of their athletes.

It may therefore be useful to look at both coaching and teaching as on a spectrum.

Coaching Spectrum

As a coach, there will be times that you are very much led by the person being coached. These times are likely to be in the majority, especially for coaching at work.

However, there may also be times when you are the expert, and imparting information. Examples might include on the meaning of a psychometric test, or best practice in a particular area where you have some knowledge. For sports coaches, it might also include making a decision about when a particular activity is safe and why.

You can think of this as a bit like the nine levels of delegation (and for more about this, see our page on our coaching services offer). It does not actually matter to anyone else what level of delegation of coach leadership you use—as long as it works for you and the person being coached.

Coaching has been defined in many ways. The essence of coaching is:

  • To help a person change in the way they wish and helping them go in the direction they want to go.
  • Coaching supports a person at every level in becoming who they want to be.
  • Coaching builds awareness empowers choice and leads to change.

It unlocks a person’s potential to maximise their performance. Coaching helps them to learn rather than teaching them.

Coaching has traditionally been associated with sports. Every top athlete has a coach. In the last few years, coaching has become applicable in every area, in business and in every aspect of life as well as sport.

Now, it is quite normal for someone to see a coach to help them achieve their goals in their life and work.
Coaching is a partnership between coach and client.

The coach helps the client to achieve their personal best and to produce the results they want in their personal and professional lives. Coaching ensures the client can give their best, learn and develop in the way they wish.

The coach need not be an expert in their clients’ field of work.

It is useful to distinguish coaching from similar activities.


Mentoring is when a senior colleague, seen as more knowledgeable and worldly wise gives advice and provides a role model. Mentoring involves wide ranging discussions that may not be limited to the work context. A mentor is a sponsor with great professional experience in their client’s field of work. Both mentoring and coaching are concerned mainly with achievements in the present and the future.


Counselling is working with a client who feels uncomfortable, or dissatisfied with their life. They are seeking guidance and advice. A counsellor works remedially on a client’s problem.


Therapy is working with the client who seeks relief from psychological or physical symptoms. The client wants emotional healing and relief from mental pain. Therapy deals with the client’s mental health. Coaching deals with the client’s mental growth. The client’s motive for entering therapy or counselling is usually to get away from pain or discomfort, rather than moving towards desired goals. Coaching is not remedial, it is generative. Both therapy and counselling are more likely to involve understanding and working with experience than coaching.


Training is the process of getting knowledge skills or abilities by study, experience or teaching. The trainer by definition is the expert, and the training course is likely to be targeted on specific skills for immediate results. Training is also likely to be one to many rather than one to one.


A consultant provides expertise and solves business problems, or develops a business as a whole. A consultant deals with the overall organization or specific parts of it and not individuals within it. Consultants only indirectly affect individuals.


Teaching passes knowledge from teacher to student. The teacher knows something the student does not. The opposite is true in coaching. The client is the expert and the client has the answers, not the coach.


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.


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 considering the ‘coach as expert’ but also 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 and APPLY. 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.

Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” John Whitmore, in Coaching for Performance.

The Dunning-Kruger effect vs “the impostor syndrome” is where there is a cognitive bias where someone is unable to acknowledge his or her own competence. While the Dunning-Kruger effect occurs when people overestimate their abilities, the phenomenon’s opposite would be impostor syndrome. People suffering from impostor syndrome tend to underestimate their abilities or feel that they don’t deserve their success.

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 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.

Coaching’ is one of the essential leadership styles identified by Daniel GolemanWhat Sort of Leader are You?

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


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 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.

The Competence Cycle Model of Learning

One useful model for learning is the Competence Cycle, a four-stage model that can help you identify your competences:

1) Unconscious Incompetence

You don’t know that you don’t know about something.

A good example would be a child who has never seen a bicycle, or has no idea that any language exists other than their own.

2) Conscious Incompetence

You have become aware that you lack a particular skill.

An example might be the child who has seen other children riding bicycles, or heard someone speaking another language, and therefore wishes to learn.

3) Conscious Competence

You have learned how to do something, but you still need to think about it in order to do it.

An example would be the child who can ride a bicycle but falls off if they stop watching where they are going.

4) Unconscious Competence

You have learned how to do something so well that it has become hard-wired into your brain.

You no longer have to think about how you do it, but just do it. In fact, if you think about it too hard, you may not be able to do it.

Coaches need to identify the stage at which an individual is at to use the right sort of language to help them move to the next stage. After all, it’s difficult to try to improve a skill if you don’t know that you lack it.

Now that you have identified the need to know more about yourself and recognise your strengths vs. weaknesses, you have the opportunity through coaching to recognise easily what constitutes or present itself to you as an opportunity vs. a threat to your career. Contact us today and find out.