Untangling the Training, Mentoring, Coaching ConfusionLike “vision,” “service,” or “leadership,” coaching has become a word that means different things to different people.

Many people think of the typical sports coach who’s a veteran of the game (often a retired player). Sports coaches typically develop skills, guide improvements with feedback, and actively direct game plans. Other people talk about coaching and mentoring in one phrase as if they were two sides of the same coin. And we know of a few organizations where “coaching” means giving corrective feedback. So having your boss say, “I’d like to give you some coaching” sends shivers up your spine.

This wide range of meanings is one reason that an organizational survey in a large telecom company showed managers scoring themselves high on providing coaching while their employees scored them low.

This chart shows the improvement distinctions we’ve found between three key development activities:

Development Distinctions

We need all three to lead our teams and organizations to peak performance. But if we’re going to close the big coaching gap we need a clearer and shared understanding of what exactly good coaching is.

Unlike sports coaches, highly effective performance, career, or life coaches enable “coachees” to work through and solve their own problems. Jack Zenger succinctly outlines this critical approach in his blog Develop Subordinates by NOT Answering Their Questions. He notes this approach is adult to adult rather than the “teacher-student” or “parent-child” approach found in many of the relationships that leaders have with their team members.