Coaching and a ‘coaching approach’: what’s the difference?

March 28, 2017
Growth Coaching International

John Campbell

Executive Director of Growth Coaching International

Coaching is a powerful development practice, and coaching expert John Campbell explains how leaders can utilise its techniques in any context via a ‘coaching approach’.

This blog is part of our coaching series

Defining coaching

One of the challenges of the coaching world is confusion over terminology. How is coaching different from other ‘learning by talking’ approaches like mentoring, training, consulting and counselling? Quite a lot has been written on this– sometimes it is helpful, sometimes it confuses things further. The definition of coaching promoted by Growth Coaching International describes coaching as:

“A one-to-one conversation focused on the enhancement of learning and development through increasing self-awareness and a sense of personal responsibility, where the coach facilitates the self-directed learning of the coachee through questioning, active listening and appropriate challenge in a supportive and encouraging climate.”

When we use the term ‘leadership coaching’ further complexities emerge. Can leaders really coach their line reports in the way that we have defined above? Well yes, they can - though there are some particular challenges in this coaching relationship and perhaps the biggest challenge is in the real and perceived difference in power.

If a leader has direct, or indirect, supervisory responsibilities in relation to a team member this will to some extent impact upon the nature of a coaching relationship. This is when it can be helpful to clarify the difference between coaching and using a ‘coaching approach’.

Leaders can coach members of their team, though given the power differential and all that this can mean, it may be more straightforward to find a different coach for the team member. However, it is definitely possible, though the coach must be aware of the additional complexities that emerge when they are also in a supervisory role.

What is clear is that all leaders can bring a ‘coaching approach’ to growth and learning conversations.

Ambition TL11

The 'coaching approach'

We define the 'coaching approach' as intentionally using the transferable elements of coaching in conversational contexts where they might be appropriate and helpful. Some of the transferable elements of coaching include focusing someone’s attention on:

  • Learning
  • The present and the future, rather than the past
  • Growing self-awareness and personal responsibility
  • The other person’s agenda and self-direction
  • Providing both support and challenge

These are all in addition to other aspects of coaching: the skills of active listening; asking questions that provoke ‘Aha!’ moments; being present; and adopting the ‘beginner’s mind'. Indeed, all of these will make a positive contribution to any human interaction.


Many of these essential elements can be incorporated into a ‘coaching approach’. Leaders can use them to engage in growth and learning conversations with team members. A leader may therefore bring a coaching approach:

  • To situations with overt hierarchical differences in power
  • When working with groups or teams
  • In formal performance appraisal contexts
  • In conversations with parents and students

A coaching approach provides another way of leading. Effective leaders have been incorporating these kinds of practices into their leadership approach for some time but the focus on coaching skills and models provides a way of more precisely defining, sharpening and implementing these approaches in nuanced ways, adding further value to how we lead.

John Campbell is Executive Director of Growth Coaching International (GCI), an Australian based company that provides coaching and coach skill development training for thousands of educators across Australia and Europe each year.

Ambition School Leadership works in partnership with GCI to ensure that its coaches and programme participants are fully trained in effective coaching methods and mind set.

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This article originally appeared on the website of the Ambition School Leadership. In March 2019 the Institute for Teaching merged with Ambition School Leadership to form Ambition Institute.

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