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Coaching, Teaching, Consulting: What’s the Difference?

coaching, consulting, teaching

As the Senior Director of Adaptive Leadership for the Achievement First Charter School Network, I coach for the full range of leadership roles with a focus on emotional intelligence. I’ve been developing leaders for over ten years, but I’d like to tell you a story about how I learned to develop the emotional intelligence competency of Coach and Mentor early on, and how that lead to a refined understanding of the differences between coaching, teaching, and consulting.

The Muddled Approach

David seemed to be struggling to manage his time and take decisive action. This surprised me, as I promoted him from team lead to department manager because of his incredible organization and effective problem solving. So, I dove into developing David’s personal organization system. But that seemed fine, and our work there didn’t improve his performance. David then told me that he just needed a thought partner to solve new kinds of challenges. I shifted to that, assuming that David would learn over time if I lead him to, or just told him, the right answers the first time. Several weeks passed and I realized that David’s task management only got better on the challenges we discussed in our meetings, but not on other issues where I anticipated he’d make progress on his own.

At this point, I wasn’t sure what more I could do for David. There was something going on here that I doubted I could teach him. I began to wonder whether David had the skills and abilities that his role required.

So what went wrong? Ultimately, this is an unfortunate unfolding of events, because I attributed a weakness to David that was actually about my own failure to give him what he needed to grow.

When Teaching and Consulting are Not Enough

Back then I would have told you that I was coaching David, and many managers would agree with me. Since then I have learned from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and my mentors at the Teleos Institute that I was actually teaching and consulting, not coaching. I have learned in my own work that knowing the difference and being able to match the right approach to the right growth area is critical to developing leaders.

So far in my David story I had been teaching (modeling, practicing, and giving feedback on a skill) and consulting (giving advice and co-creating). I had pushed on his observable skills and knowledge because I assumed that I could SEE David’s obstacle to growth. This would be true if David’s growth area were just a skill gap, but David kept hitting a brick wall. Strong managers who coach know that when someone like David hits a wall with technical skill development, there’s something deeper going on, an obstacle to growth that we can’t see.

In their training related to Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence model, Korn Ferry Hay Group uses the metaphor of the iceberg to explain that there is a whole set of characteristics we have that are hard to see, and that play a role in our ability to develop new competencies.1

It is easy to see the skills and knowledge that are the “above the surface” part of the iceberg. It’s harder to see values, self-image, and motives. Sometimes these deeply personal characteristics “below the surface” get in the way of our growth. Teaching and consulting alone won’t work when the challenge is below the surface. That’s when we need to coach.

Knowing When to Coach:  Technical vs. Adaptive (Or Skill vs. Will)

The concept of technical vs. adaptive challenges has helped me make the right decision about when to coach as a manager. Technical challenges require us to learn new skills and knowledge about something we’ve already got in our wheel-house, and that is consistent with the way we see the world.

Adaptive challenges go beyond skill and knowledge acquisition. They demand a shift in the way we see the world and ourselves. If it’s adaptive, it hits us below the surface at our values, character traits, core motives, and beliefs.Quite often, as in David’s case, managers who attack technical skill building quickly discover that the obstacle is actually adaptive. When skill growth stagnates, strong coaches ask themselves a simple question: “Is this a skill issue or a will issue?” When they sense an adaptive or will-related challenge they pivot to coaching. Strong coaches will move back and forth between teaching, consulting, and coaching over time, but they always make a deliberate choice about which hat they are wearing.

A good coach helped me realize that David’s obstacle was an adaptive one. I stopped teaching him how to organize his time and consulting him on technical problems, and I started asking him questions. We dissected specific times when he was getting stuck and I asked him how he was feeling and what was going on in his head in the moment. We discovered that David’s greatest strength, his analytical mind, was turning against him in the face of multiple new challenges and his ensuing feelings of incompetence. When a new challenge came up, David got so in his head about the many potential solutions and his inability to choose that he defaulted to answering email or executing tasks that made him feel successful.

Our coaching shifted to how he could self-manage his limiting emotions and behaviors, and manage his brain so he could settle on one sound decision. I deeply believe that managers can coach. The key is to know when to coach, and to shift our focus to what’s below-the-surface. If we can accept that we don’t have the answers there, then we can facilitate a conversation that helps our people surface their unseen obstacles and tap into their full potential.

To summarize the difference between these three approaches

Teaching is when a manager models, guides practice, observes practice and gives performance feedback, and is appropriate when someone has a skill or knowledge gap.

Consulting is asking guiding questioning, giving advice, and co-creating, and is appropriate when someone needs a thought partner to help solve problems.

Coaching is supporting someone to uncover their internal obstacles and to learn how to manage them, and is appropriate when a manager realizes that skill and knowledge gaps are not the primary obstacle to performance.

Recommended Reading:

coach and mentor competencyIn Coach and Mentor: A Primer, Daniel Goleman, Matthew Taylor, and colleagues introduce Emotional Intelligence and dive deep into the Coach and Mentor Competency, exploring what’s needed to develop this capacity in leadership.

In a relatively short read, the authors illustrate the valuable skills needed to foster the long-term learning or development of others by giving feedback and support.

See the full list of primers by topic, or get the complete Emotional Intelligence leadership competency collection!


  1. Hay Group. “What is a Competency” from Hay Group Accreditation Training Presentation (Boston, MA, 2013).
  2. Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky, (2002) Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive through the Dangers of Leading. (Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing, 2002).

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Want High Performing Teams? Invest in Coaching and Mentoring

coach and mentor emotional intelligence

Investment in coaching and mentoring activity can have a positive, or even transformative, impact on leader effectiveness. By focusing on coaching and mentoring, leaders can help their team develop Emotional and Social Intelligence (ESI) competencies and minimize the impact of the negative aspects of organizational culture on performance. These are some of the results of my analysis of in-depth interviews with 42 leaders, which included use of the ESI model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis.

Successful coaching and mentoring is seen in leaders with a commitment to career-oriented development of others.

This includes guiding others to identify and follow through on their own strategies for improvement. Since many of the leaders I interviewed had lengthy and successful leadership careers, it was not surprising that this topic was the second most frequently referenced competency identified in the study. This competency is exemplified in leaders who:

  • Recognize others’ strengths
  • Provide ongoing performance improvement-oriented feedback
  • Encourage others

Participants also clearly expressed that their own career successes were linked to the higher performing teams they created through consistent coaching and mentoring. Many stressed the importance of this approach, often reporting that it accounted for 15-20% of their time.

The participants in my study said that mindfulness helped them develop the level of self-awareness and social awareness they needed to identify how to coach and mentor in an effective way. This included identifying interpersonal cues needed to determine whether or not their behaviors were having the desired effect. A part of this process also required leaders to regularly reflect upon what others need, and how to use that understanding in a way that their subordinates and peers would respond to.

Many leaders also reported coming to the realization that a leader/follower relationship is one of co-dependence. Therefore, the leader must systematically let go of thoughts and behaviors motivated solely by their personal interests. Instead, they began to base their decisions on two core values that appeal to everyone:

  • Delivering clear value to the organization, and
  • Ensuring that subordinates are able to do so as effectively as possible

The Value of Coaching and Mentoring

The leaders I interviewed indicated that much of this activity was voluntary on their part. However, they also reported that their commitment to coaching and mentoring was well worth the investment of their time, and linked it to numerous benefits, including:

  • More innovation and voluntary contributions from direct reports
  • Greater team and individual autonomy
  • Improved team synergy and performance
  • Reduced workload and less stress for the leader

Participants described the creation of strong, intra-team relationships that helped to address negative aspects of organizational culture, such as concerns about job security and disruption within the workplace. For example, subordinates responded positively to development efforts that increased their market value and ability to advance and/or move laterally, if needed. Leaders also provided examples of their efforts contributing to an enduring, trust-based professional/personal network that transcended individual organizations.

Authentic, supportive relationships that extend beyond traditional workplace boundaries were specifically linked to improved team output as well. For instance, leaders commented on the value they experienced by openly sharing stories of personal struggles interfering with their workplace performance. They also reported making a point of identifying when their direct reports and peers seemed to be having similar difficulties, and proactively creating a channel for safe, open dialogue focused on helping.

Coaching and Mentoring in Action

The leaders in my study identified a variety of forms of effective coaching and mentoring activity. A common strategy was obtaining organizational resources to support training requirements. However, the way in which leaders interacted with their direct reports on a daily basis was also a key part of their approach. For example, a senior manager with a global engineering and manufacturing firm described an emphasis on “stretch assignments” and cultivating autonomy: “… I step back and allow people to lead me so that I am supporting them and giving them the courage to do something that they are not used to doing.”

Examples like this showed that leaders were capable of utilizing the scaffolding concept for supporting learning and development set forth by Dixon, Carnine, and Kameenui. This strategy reflects an understanding of the importance of a knowledgeable person being available to provide input and direction during the process of development, with the aim of gradually transitioning to independent action.

Another senior leader, with a major international manufacturing company, focused discussion on the value of action-oriented feedback: “…I just said that it’s really important that you ask these questions during your interaction with the client… it would’ve been a much more natural part of their conversation, rather than me entering into that conversation later.”  This illustrates the importance of utilizing highly contextualized, task-centered interventions to develop understanding of the processes and interrelated variables involved in solving problems. The importance of this level of understanding has been explored in the work of  Weick and Roberts and leaders described developing it with a method that aligns with the Direct Instruction model for improving skill acquisition and retention.

Getting Started

In addition to making a sincere effort to make training and development resources available to subordinates, a strategy for effective coaching and mentoring activity also includes the following:

  • Equal participation of subordinates in performance plan design
  • Creation of a vision for an “ideal working relationship” between leader and follower
  • Agreement on, and full understanding of, measurement criteria and progress tracking
  • Modelling mutual respect (turn off your devices during meetings), and
  • Inclusion of stretch assignments coupled with supportive, yet constructive, feedback

Based on what leaders told me, I recommend working towards an intermingling of mindfulness practice and coaching and mentoring activities. For example, maintain focus on the importance of diligent, daily coaching and mentoring activity, as well as the reasons for making it a priority. In this context, give additional attention to the competencies of empathy, emotional self-control, and influence as enablers of your commitment to develop others. This, in turn, will help you identify activities and opportunities for achieving those goals.


Recommended Reading:

coach and mentor competencyIn Coach and Mentor: A Primer, Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and colleagues introduce Emotional Intelligence and dive deep into the Coach and Mentor Competency, exploring what’s needed to develop this capacity in leadership.

In a relatively short read, the authors illustrate the valuable skills needed to foster the long-term learning or development of others by giving feedback and support.






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The Role of Trust and Intuition in Mentorship

Acting as a coach/mentor is one of the best expressions of leadership and, in particular, mindful leadership. An engaged and connected leader doesn’t see coaching or mentoring as an act to be performed or a checklist to be completed, but rather a way of being in the workplace, leading by example and having the time to offer constructive feedback.

I want to share some examples to clarify the coach/mentor relationship and how it might work with an employee. The examples are not meant to be comprehensive, but rather to illustrate the many facets of mentoring. They come from managers and employees I have worked with who shared their experience with me.

Tap Into Intuition

Jane and I worked together for 4 years. She was a Director and I served as CEO. When asked for an example of mentoring, she said that I consistently encouraged and supported her to check in with her heart and her gut. She remembered me saying that there are a million rational reasons to make a case for or against something, but each one of us has an intuition to connect to. This idea resonated with her and she continues to practice self-awareness, identifying and paying attention to that instinct/intuition when she is making decisions.

Similarly, Julie described a situation with a customer that she brought up with our leadership team because of some specific violent and threatening behavior. She wanted the leadership team to be aware of the situation. Everyone jumped in with their opinion about what she should have done and what she should do next. She remembered me interrupting the discussion and asking her if she knew what she wanted to do. She said she did. I said, “Then it’s done, and our job is to support you in executing your decision.”

Julie, like Jane, worried whether or not she’d made the right decision and if there might have been a better decision. In reflecting on this almost a decade later, she understands that there wasn’t a right answer, but rather the best one for her, her department, and the customer at the time. She said that, in that moment, having a supportive boss helped her see the significance of staying true to herself and her gut instinct and in turn the importance of supporting others who worked for her to be true to themselves.

The takeaway from these two examples for the coach/mentor is understanding that your role is not to try to make everyone be like you. Each of us has an authentic style and when we make decisions or act in congruence with who we are it will invariably be better for ourselves and the business.

Cultivate A Climate of Trust

Rebecca, VP of Operations for a natural food company, was trying to manage a situation in which one of her senior managers, Betsy, was having personality differences with the founder/owner of the company. Rebecca fell into the trap of micro-managing Betsy because she was afraid that if Betsy did something the owner didn’t like it would reflect back on her. The result was that Betsy didn’t feel supported by Rebecca or the owner and Rebecca felt continual fear and stress that something was going to go wrong. This dynamic escalated to a palpable tension that permeated the organization. Betsy’s performance declined. She felt frustrated and discouraged. Rebecca and I discussed the situation one day. During that conversation, Rebecca realized that her fears had caused her to lose sight of Betsy’s strengths and abilities. Once Rebecca could see beyond her fears, she was able to see Betsy’s strengths, reset her attitude, and offer Betsy the respect, feedback, support, and trust she needed. Betsy began to work better with the founder/owner immediately. She also began to regularly exceed Rebecca’s expectations. What surprised Rebecca the most was that Betsy started to seek out Rebecca for advice and was open to Rebecca’s feedback and help. Rebecca shared with me that my encouragement to cultivate a culture of trust helped her realize that instead of her worst fears coming true, she was able to get the most out of the people she worked with.

Bob, a manager who was a peer of mine, remembered that working with one of our senior managers created tremendous anxiety for him. He shared that my simply being available to validate how he and others on the team were feeling was a tremendous help. He said it was good to have someone less reactive than he was to kick around ideas on how to best deal with her. He believes that having someone with a calm disposition to work with enabled him to think with a clearer mind and made him more productive.

Take Time To Coach

As a leader, your responsibility is to the individuals with whom you work. It is your job to create an environment that will allow them to grow and flourish. The gift of the leader is the experience, insight, and understanding of how people and businesses work.

Coaching and mentoring is the vehicle for sharing your experience with others, and adapting it to their personalities, sensitivities, needs, and motivations to help them succeed.

You do this not because you have to but because you want to. Be available, listen for subtle and not so subtle clues or uncertainty, pay attention to your team, and get to know their idiosyncrasies. The effective coach/mentor takes the time to provide clear, direct, and supportive feedback in the moment. It may not always be convenient for you, but it is essential for your team members.

Recommended Reading:

coach and mentor competencyIn Coach and Mentor: A Primer, Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and colleagues introduce Emotional Intelligence and dive deep into the Coach and Mentor Competency, and what’s needed to develop this capacity in leadership.

In a relatively short read, the authors illustrate the valuable skills needed to foster the long-term learning or development of others by giving feedback and support.

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Engaging the Whole Person at Work


When we see ourselves and our co-workers only as tools to get the job done it is difficult to connect with one another as human beings. Connection is essential to building high performing and high functioning teams, not to mention to creating job fulfillment.

There is a story Max DePree shared in his book Leadership is An Art (1987), told by his father about visiting with the wife of the Millwright for the Herman Miller factory after her husband died. It was in the 1920’s and Max’s dad went to pay his respects to the Millwright’s wife. During his visit the Millwright’s wife asked his father if he’d mind if she read some poetry. He thought it would be appropriate and sat back to listen. As she read, the beauty of the poem resonated with him. He’d never heard this poetry before and asked who the poet was. She said it was her husband, the Millwright. The man who had been integral to the Herman Miller manufacturing processes, who provided the power for the machinery in his factory, dismantled machines and moved them around was a poet. This came as a surprise; he’d known the man but didn’t know he had this talent outside of work. It motivated him to see that leaders must, “endorse a concept of person”.

As I read this in the early ”˜90’s I realized that this lesson is bigger than the “concept of person” in a tops down view. It is about connection, learning about the people who work with you and sharing yourself with them. When you connect with the people who work with you, you discover other interests, talents, loves, and they in turn learn something about you.

Why does this matter? What difference does it make if you know the Millwright is a poet, the Accountant is a photographer, the HR Manager’s child is seriously ill or the Customer Service Specialist has just lost her mother?

Business is structured as a well-defined hierarchy that defines us by our titles and the roles we play within business, and our interactions are determined by these roles. The playing field is tilted in favor of the leadership, but should it be? By coming to understand more about ourselves and the people we work with, we can see that occasional missteps at work often result from a much larger context; a problem at home, the death of a beloved pet or some other distraction. They aren’t necessarily about lack of competence or skill, sloppiness or a bad attitude.

Without making excuses we understand that we all have days that are a challenge. “Endorsing the concept of person” builds team and team makes it possible to confront unexpected challenges in the day-to-day life of business, whether it’s shaky sales, disruption of production, strained cash flow, the loss of a well-liked co-worker or the acquisition of a new customer with compassion and understanding. We have jobs and roles within a company, but when we can connect not only through job and role but as fellow humans, we create an authentic engagement that fosters an environment in which human creativity and satisfaction grow and thrive. We form a sense of equality in an otherwise hierarchical unequal environment. The consistency with which we can cultivate these fleeting opportunities, over time builds a level of trust essential to a high functioning team. The challenge is that many believe that when a leader opens up they will be seen as weak or vulnerable. The opposite is true.

Here’s how this played out in my leadership experience

I worked with a smart and capable Engineering Manager who had a reputation as a tremendous problem solver, but he had started to become impatient with process and prone to angry tirades. He seemed to be seething inside. Many of his attacks were directed at individuals. My boss at the time wanted me to “get rid of him.” His behavior was undermining his position with the company and his credibility; people were starting to avoid him. What he lacked was Emotional Self-Control.

Instead of turning my feelings off and seeing him as the “problem” and firing him I sat down with him to talk about anger. Not only his, but mine. I shared some of my frustrations and how important it was to see them and be with them, but not project them out onto others. As we discussed the situation he began to explain what was behind his anger. He kept pointing at the things other people were doing, and I’d share more about my own anger and how my frustration was often rooted in not really understanding how to move the needle and effect change.

Finally I looked at him and said, “You know the anger has to stop. It doesn’t matter what provokes you, you can’t act out and mistreat other people on the team, no matter how frustrated you are. There are positive and constructive ways to address the issues that are frustrating you. You need to find them or ask for help. Do you understand?” He replied that he understood. We talked about the possibility of anger management counseling. He didn’t think he needed it. I told him that I valued him as a co-worker and friend but that if he had another angry outburst, I’d have to let him go, no second chances. As we continued to talk, I asked, “Do you want to stay here?” He said, “Yes. I like it here, I want to stay.” I followed with,  “Do you think you can do this?’ His response,  “Yes, I know I can.”

The problem was now entirely within his control. I knew some of the difficulties he was dealing with outside of the workplace, and understood that having control would likely result in a better outcome. Through our connection and sharing, he knew that I’d had similar challenges in my work life, and others had as well. It wasn’t having the feelings that were the problem it was what he did with them. At this point, he began to problem-solve for himself. He identified his triggers and ways he could address them.  He looked at me and said, “Thanks, I think I need to apologize to a few folks.” He kept his job, and worked better with others from that point on.

By being authentic and curious about his issues, sharing my own, and not taking the easy route of simply replacing him, we built a connection together that made it possible to discuss the issue not just as a boss and employee, but as two human beings. By “endorsing the concept of person”, we created a moment of equality and authentic connection that helped him move from being a victim to understanding the impact his behavior was having on the organization and the need for him to take responsibility. This is leading with emotional intelligence.

Recommended Reading:

Emotional Self-Control: A Primer

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

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What Hiring Managers Want vs. What Recent Graduates Have

Daniel Goleman’s Harvard Business Review articles have been helping develop leadership skills up to the C-suite for decades. As the class of 2016 begins to enter the workforce, these highly acclaimed articles remain as relevant now as ever before.

What is it employers look for when hiring recent graduates? What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters is a collection of Dr. Goleman’s writings designed to explain the components of emotional intelligence and why they matter at work.

Recent Grads: What Makes a Leader?

Recent research by the Hay Group surveyed business leaders and recent graduates based in India, the U.S., and China. More than three-quarters of managers reported that entry-level workers and recent grads are not ready for their jobs.

According to the Hay Group, recent graduates often lack “soft skills” unrelated to their technical or cognitive abilities. These skills include key emotional intelligence (EI) abilities such as self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and social skills.

Dr. Goleman’s article “What Makes a Leader” continues to be one of Harvard Business Review‘s best-selling articles. First published in 1998, Dr. Goleman’s message has resonated with people across all walks of life: what distinguishes outstanding leaders is emotional intelligence.

“What Makes a Leader” was just the beginning of Dr. Goleman’s writings about emotional intelligence in HBR. His next HBR article, “Leadership that Gets Results,” summarized the data from Hay Group on leadership styles that build on EI abilities and their impact on the emotional climate of organizations.

More Than Sound has reprinted “What Makes a Leader” and “Leadership that Gets Results” in a collection of Dr. Goleman’s writings, including three additional HBR articles, pieces about the importance of focus for leaders, and other recent brief articles.

What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters is available in affordable print and e-book formats, is a compact volume that delivers a wealth of insight and timely information for leaders young and old.

From Daniel Goleman’s Introduction to What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters

“This collection of my writing on leadership and EI – mainly articles I’ve written in the Harvard Business Review – reflects how my thinking has evolved. When I wrote Emotional Intelligence in the mid-1990s, I included a short chapter, called “Managing with Heart,” that made the simple argument that leaders need strengths in emotional intelligence. This, at the time, was a new and rather radical idea. That chapter, to my surprise, got lots of attention, particularly from people in management.

As I looked into the data on leadership and EI for my next book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, I became even more convinced. I took advantage of my training back in graduate school from David McClelland, who at the time was a pioneer in the method known as ”˜competence modeling,’ which allows a systematic analysis of the specific strengths that make someone in a given role an outstanding performer. When I did a rough analysis of close to 200 such models from a wide range of organizations, I found that the large majority of competencies that distinguished the best leaders were based on EI, not IQ.

That caught the eye of editors at the Harvard Business Review, who asked me to write an article summarizing this. Called ”˜What Makes a Leader,’ that article is the first chapter of this book. My next HBR article, ”˜Leadership that Gets Results’ – the second chapter here – summarized data from Hay Group on leadership styles that build on EI abilities, and their varying impacts on emotional climate of the organization.

As I looked more deeply at the new findings from neuroscience on the dynamics of relationships – and what that meant for the drivers of excellence and high-impact relationships – I again wrote for HBR. Those articles, too, are included in this book. My most recent thinking has shifted frameworks to explore how a leader’s focus matters for effectiveness. The chapter ”˜The Leader’s Triple Focus’ summarizes sections on leadership from my book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence. And, the final chapter, written for a magazine (by coincidence called Focus) published by Egon Zehnder International, reflects on the ethical dimension of leadership. I’ve also included several of my blogs, placed after the relevant chapters, that either further delve into the topic or complement it. These first appeared, for the most part, on LinkedIn; some are from

I hope my reflections gathered here will help you along the way in your own leadership journey.”