Can coaching work for skills development?

Updated: Jul 8

two women having a coaching session in an office around a table

After coaching informally for many years, I went on a formal coaching course last year to gain a recognised qualification - the AoEC Practitioner Diploma. My background is in helping clients improve the capability of their teams, predominantly through more formal face to face online training. I would often work with smaller groups and coaching formed part of my “toolkit”, to provide more personalised help to people. My coaching experience within my organisation involved coaching on the job and fulfilling a “career coach” role, helping people think about their career ambitions and make sense of their feedback.

Prior to the course, I was aware of the concept of a “pure” non-directive style of coaching, where the coach doesn’t offer any input, but evokes learning through facilitating the clients' self-discovery of the issue. I had little experience of it though and so the course was invaluable in helping me to hone these skills, use “clean” language, really listen to what was going on and then reflecting back what I was noticing.

two pairs of arms on a table holding coffee cups having a mentoring session

After the training, I took on a more formal coaching role in my organisation. As someone of a senior grade, there was an expectation from my coachees that I would also be acting as a mentor giving advice. When contracting upfront we were able to discuss expectations around this, and it was a topic that I touched on in my regular supervision sessions. The view I took was that as long as the client had fully explored the topic themselves first, and the advice was offered lightly, then it was appropriate to provide some input into a coaching session.

I am now working independently and in conversations with current and potential clients, it seems that there is a third way of supporting people to perform at their best in organisations - the way of the mentor-coach or trainer-coach. In some cases, a client may be looking for more directive coaching and learning on a particular topic such as influencing skills or communication skills. This is something that I always discuss heavily in contracting sessions up front - it is a service I can provide because of my experience in training and mentoring in organisations on these topics (something which I still do), but they need to understand that it's not the same as an executive coaching programme.

So how does it differ:

The table below shows some of the differences as I perceive them:

differences between coach, mentor-coach and training programme

How can it be used?

The mentor-coach approach is most suitable for where there is an underlying behavioural issue behind the skills gap. The coaching element works on the underlying confidence or fear issues, whilst there can also be a focus on improving the skills using tools and techniques that will help the client deliver a sense of confidence in their ability. A bit of a “fake it until you make it” approach.

With the focus on one to one time, it will be more costly than a training programme, but working on the mindset shift will resolve the age-old problem of “I know what I need to do, but I just can’t bring myself to do it”, so it could be something that organisations could consider for their leadership roles or for a talent programme.

Finally, the approach is much more tailored and fl