ATD Blog

What Is Coaching? Back to the Basics

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

In much of the corporate and business world, coaching is still widely misunderstood. Some, when they think of coaching, are actually thinking of training. Training is providing information, demonstrating application, and leading learning exercises. Executive or business coaching is completely different.

People also misunderstand the terms “coaching” and “mentoring,” often using them interchangeably in the workplace. Again, the two are completely different. How are a trainer and a mentor different from a coach?

  • A trainer and a mentor talk—a coach listens.
  • A trainer and a mentor give advice—a coach asks questions.
  • A trainer and a mentor focus on imparting knowledge and the process for achieving outcomes—a coach focuses on enhancing the coachee’s self-awareness and facilitating the individual’s goal-setting and action-planning processes.
  • A trainer and a mentor assume the role of the expert—a coach empowers the client through active listening and thoughtful questioning to become the expert.

The differences between the role of a trainer or a mentor from that of a coach are clear: A trainer or a mentor shares expertise with others and is essentially a teacher. A coach develops expertise and confidence in others and is essentially a facilitator. 
In the workplace, both approaches provide value. A trainer or a mentor adds value by sharing information, making connections, and giving advice. A coach adds value by guiding the coachee to explore his or her options, expand her thinking, develop effective action plans, and follow through.


The American Management Association conducted a study that found that training results in a 22 percent improvement, and that training combined with coaching results in an 88 percent improvement. Coaching is a natural complement to training because the training provides the information and coaching supports individual application of the information.

The next post in this blog series will discuss core competencies for coaching.

About the Author

Cathy Liska is the founder and CEO of the Center for Coaching Certification and the Center for Coaching Solutions. As the Guide from the Side, she is recognized among the best internationally in training, speaking, coaching, mediation, and consulting. Cathy has presented, trained, and facilitated thousands of events, workshops, certification courses, and organizational retreats, freely sharing from her 20 years of experience in business ownership and management. Cathy serves as a Certified Master Coach and certifies others to coach in her ICF-approved program. Cathy’s personal mission statement is “People.” Cathy is known for her passion in sharing the insight, experience, positive attitude, and information that empower others to achieve the results they desire;

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