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 flexible than arranging a large scale training programme. Given the current restrictions on meeting in large groups face to face, mentor-coaching definitely has a place in an organisation’s professional development toolkit.

So what skills does a mentor-coach require?

A mentor-coach requires the same skills as a coach, namely:

  • Excellent listening skills

  • Asking powerful questions

  • Observing and reflecting, creating awareness

But also additional skills to enable them to have credibility in the mentoring space:

  • Using observations to given high-quality specific feedback on the client's skills

  • Knowledge, tools, techniques, models and frameworks for the topic. I find a variety of these helpful so the client has the power to choose which ones resonate and work best for them

  • Experience in the client’s environment (whether business, third sector, education etc.) and of having done it before

This is just my initial reflections on this subject and I would love to engage with people further on this.

Do you consider yourself to be a mentor-coach?

If you are interested in continuing the conversation then please message me or contact me via my website.

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