What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Training?

Ali is a bright, energetic product manager. She has career ambitions and has shown the ability to take the initiative — “This year,” she promised herself, “I’m going to work with an executive coach and get better trained as a leader.”

The terms coaching and training are often used interchangeably. This is a mistake made by many. It often results in confusion and, perhaps more importantly, it creates expectations that typically result in disappointment. While we applaud Ali’s initiative and her decision to consider executive coaching, she’s in danger of heading down the wrong path.

Simply put, training and coaching are two different things — they each require different levels of engagement and seek distinct types of outcomes.

What is Training?

Training is primarily a one-way exchange of knowledge, process, or method. A trainer delivers specific information to trainees. A trainee absorbs that information and demonstrates understanding and application.

Many clear examples of training come to mind… from training to learn about and apply new HR accessibility regulations for your department, to becoming proficient in, and getting the most from, a new Customer Relationship Management platform at your company.

Less obvious are workshops and seminars about managing and delegating, team performance, and how to have difficult conversations. Those are training activities as well — what you are learning to understand and apply are overarching models of behavior and best-practices: tips, hacks, and next steps.

In each case, knowledge is being delivered by the trainer and accepted, processed, and put into practice by the trainee.

What is Coaching?

Coaching is a partnership — a two-way exchange of knowledge and mutually acquired insight. Coaches do not tell their clients what to do: that would imply that the coach has more knowledge than the client about the client’s life and work — which is clearly not true. Coaching is instead a much more nuanced and individualized approach than training.

“To use a computer analogy, training is a download of knowledge. Coaching is examining the client’s ‘operating system’ in order to optimize and expand it,” said Maren Perry, president of Arden Coaching. “Potentially, this involves breaking apart things the client already has in place in order to upgrade the whole system, rather than simply adding information onto an existing system.”

According to Perry, this is why the person being coached must truly want to be coached, be open to change, and be willing to do the work necessary to break old habits and engage in new behaviors.

“Coaches help their clients clarify their goals, change behaviors, and strengthen leadership skills, emotional intelligence, and performance,” added Perry. “We do not come up with the answers for someone — simply putting new information onto your existing operating system. We empower people to communicate, lead, and make their own decisions: to examine their own operating system and upgrade it as they — not we — see fit.”

According to Perry, to be truly successful in a coaching engagement, there are a few critical attributes that the person being coached must have.

  1. You must be a full participant in the coaching experience. The executive coaching process shifts thinking patterns and behavior. That requires work and personal accountability.
  1. Are you willing to get a little uncomfortable? You must be open and honest with yourself and your coach. Are you ready to listen to feedback from colleagues, and have coaching conversations about your style, effectiveness, and impact on others?
  1. Do you value learning? Are you intellectually curious? Curiosity about why we act the way we act, and do the things we do, means that you’re more willing to consider new points of view, adapt, and make changes.
  1. Can you self-reflect — are you able to build a high level of self-awareness and see yourself the way others see you? This is not something that comes naturally. This requires the ability to look at yourself impartially, to accept what others tell you they see, and the courage to risk new ways of thinking and behaving. 

“It’s pretty safe to say that anyone can be trained,” noted Perry. “But not everyone is coachable.” For more about being coachable, read Arden Coaching’s “Executive Coaching is Not ‘Training.’ You Must be Coachable!” and “Who is Coachable?” 

An executive coach will work in close alliance with Ali to facilitate her development as a leader — a knowledgeable guide who will lead her along a path of self-discovery, insight, and action to incorporate tangible long-term change.

So Ali, stop and consider carefully, do you need a trainer, or a coach?

To learn more about how executive coaching can help you adopt new behaviors and strengthen your leadership skills, contact Arden Coaching at [email protected] or 646.684.3777.