A top goal for many organizations and team leaders in recent years has been to cultivate a coaching culture. Over the years, I’ve come across different articles and training courses on what being a coach means. It seems that depending on your industry, it can look different.

I did an interview with Authority Magazine recently on “Moving From Command to Control to Coaching & Collaboration.” One of their questions was — “How do you define the differences between a leader as a manager and a leader as a coach?

I felt inspired to write this post because I’ve come across this question a lot as a Talent Development professional in the corporate space. In the past, I found that I had often confused being a mentor with being a coach. Additionally, the differences between coaching and other ways to develop teams seemed unclear.

Coming from a Talent Development background, I’ve always been curious about how adults learn, especially in a corporate environment. So what makes coaching unique? Why is it powerful way to learn?

Here is a simplified way of looking at coaching that I think makes this concept easier to grasp.

Mindset and Characteristics of a Coach

To me, coaching is a very unique type of leadership approach. Coaches inspire others as leaders do but they focus on empowering others. Their role is not to give advice but to help their teams come to their own insights.

On the other hand, mentors give advice based on their previous experiences.

Harvard Business Review wrote an informational piece on different styles of coaching. According to this article, mentoring falls in one of the four coaching categories — Directive Coaching.

However, I like to draw a clearer line between mentoring and coaching. Coaching techniques, if done the right way, really empower adults to learn as they help us come to insights based on our own experiences.

Now of course, there are situations where a leader would want to give advice (and this is where the different styles of leading will come into play!). However, the truth is that most leaders feel the pressure to give advice in most situations and miss out on opportunities where playing a coaching role would be more beneficial.

Here are some characteristics that I believe make a successful coach. Perhaps my perspective of what coaching is feels oversimplified, but it makes this concept of coaching much easier to grasp.

This is, of course, not an exhaustive list. However, this list will help you think about skillsets that you need to develop so you can become a better coach for your team.

Mindset of a Coach:

  • Don’t feel pressured to have all the answers.
  • Can lead without being THE expert.
  • Their team members are wise in their own ways and can come to their own answers.
  • Look forward to learning from every team member.

Characteristics of a Coach:

  • Genuinely curious about their team’s thoughts and perspectives.
  • Great listeners and skilled at drawing insights from what others are saying. (Here’s an older blog post I’ve written on what it means to be a great listener!)
  • Ask empowering questions to help their teams come up with their own goals and action steps.
  • Focus on the person’s thoughts and emotions around a situation, and not the situation itself. In other words, they focus on the “who” and not the “what.”

As a result, they…

  • Build more genuine and meaningful relationships with their teams.
  • Lead authentically in a more effortless way.
  • Cultivate a curious and growth mindset within their teams.
  • Build and sustain more engaged and resilient teams.

Cultivate a Stronger Coaching Culture

Cultivating a stronger coaching culture is a top initiative for many organizations and team leaders. Understanding what coaching means is a crucial step. As with every culture initiative, it takes time and being consistent through action is key!

Every little step counts. What actions are you taking today to help cultivate a stronger coaching culture on your team and in your organization?

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Cultivate a Coaching Culture: Mindset and Characteristics of a Coach