One of the areas frequently cited as indicative of effective leaders is developing others. This is the idea of and individual in a leader role as coach. And it underscores the importance of individuals who are leading to learn about effective coaching. Fundamental principles and skills are not all that difficult to learn. Integrating them into behavior is a challenge, since applying them involves new ways of understanding others and, more importantly, new insights about one’s self.
Questions are key to coaching processes, but it is important that they not be leading questions. Why? Well, because the most effective coaching leads the person being coached not only to discover answers or solutions, but understanding themselves in relation to how they go about engaging with challenges. This type of learning is arguably the most important outcome of a coaching process, because it means the individual can carry this forward to new and improved ways of solving problems, working with others, and so on.
And there is additional benefit: the coaches learn about themselves, as well. By being aware of the types of questions they ask, they can learn about their own effectiveness of helping others discover what is important, as well as the degree to which they as coaches bring their own assumptions, beliefs, and intentions to the coaching process. When their questions lead the person they are coaching, this is more like mentoring.
I suspect that many managers who coach their subordinates think of themselves as experts. They are the teachers and the subordinates are the learners. Such an attitude is far more appropriate in mentoring than in coaching. Mentoring is most useful in teaching others about what is happening and how to engage a system and its members in learning more. It provides expert advice on politics, style and techniques.
Individuals who are leading can draw on both mentoring and coaching to support individuals in follower and collaborator roles. It is important to know the difference between these two roles. Growing such awareness can only enhance the effectiveness of the individual in both roles.