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Coaching and Mentoring

The Coaching Continuum

January 15, 2012 by Dr. Jon Warner in Coaching and Mentoring

Before you can be really effective as a coach you need to have an understanding of your own style and how it can help or hinder the coaching process.

There are many places you can be on what we’ll call the “coaching continuum”. As long as the coaching style you are adopting suits the situation (the person and the task), learning will be maximised. Problems arise, though, if the style you are using does not match what the situation needs or demands.

All of us have a natural, or preferred coaching style. We need to understand what it is and when it’s appropriate so that as coaches we can learn to adapt our style to the needs of the situation and the person we are trying to coach. To develop a good understanding of our style it’s helpful to consider the extremes.

At one end of the coaching continuum there is the “Teaching” Coach. This type of coach does a lot of “telling”. They have the expertise and they are trying to pass it on to help the other person achieve something concrete. In using this style, the coach is typically drawing on his or her experience to pass on the skills and knowledge the other person needs to achieve an outcome or to do their job. This sort of coaching is appropriate when tasks are to be performed in the “right” way over and over. It’s often (but not always) particularly helpful to people who are in front-line jobs where they have to achieve a consistent and predictable outcome in providing a product or a service.

At the other end of the scale is the “Learning to learn” Coach. This type of coach is more interested in asking questions and listening instead of telling. Rather than hands-on technical experience the “Learning to learn” Coach often has a broader ‘people empowerment’ expertise which they use. They typically recognise the potential in people and have a commitment to giving individuals challenges and opportunities to stretch themselves and learn how to learn (especially when the individual may have projects to undertake as part of their learning journey). This sort of coaching is appropriate when there are many paths to a good result and there is not just one “right” approach. It’s particularly helpful when people are developing as managers/leaders or working on projects which are breaking new ground for them.

Coaching Continuum

Coaching Continuum

Informal coaching can take place almost anywhere or any time as long as you can give the person you are coaching your undivided attention – even for a very short time. However, these days, with the pace of work, it is often difficult to set up formal coaching sessions. Hence, coaches need to be on the lookout for opportunities to coach “on the run”.

If you look for them, you’ll be amazed at how often you’ll be able to create “on the run” coaching sessions. The conversations you have with people in the lunchroom, in corridors, even in the car lot can all lead to potentially effective coaching. Remember the quote from the Mars organisation, “If any conversation lasts longer than 10 seconds it should be seen as coaching”. Hence, if a conversation is short and instructional, it does not seek to modify long-term thinking or action and therefore rarely counts as coaching. However, if you take time to listen and to explain, coaching can be given and received. Checking on how someone feels they are doing by asking questions which will get you past the initial “Okay” is a good way to show your people that you really care about how they are doing and that you want to help them if you can. This can become very fulfilling for both parties if done well.

A good place to start is to encourage the person you are aiming to coach to “drop in” on you regularly. This means that you are not doing all the work in setting up coaching opportunities. In addition, the person you’re coaching feels that it’s more of a partnership if they feel they can come to you anytime without being “invited”.

Of course, you can’t just rely on informal coaching. If you’re serious about helping the people you work with, you need to make time to set up some more formal coaching sessions. These might be sessions where you formally review performance and progress or set new project targets and goals, or design formal development plans, or explore even career options for the future.

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About Dr. Jon Warner

Dr. Jon Warner is a prolific author, management consultant and executive coach with over 25 years experience. He has an MBA and a PhD in Organizational Psychology. Jon can be reached at

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About the Editor and Primary Author

Jon Warner

Jon Warner is an executive coach and management consultant and in the past has been a CEO in three very different companies. Read more

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