What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Teaching?

What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Teaching?


All organisations, in almost every sector, are trying to get the best out of their people. Managers and senior leaders are responsible for ensuring teams are performing at their best in order to achieve optimal performance both for themselves and their organisation. 


Two ways of achieving improved performance are through coaching and teaching. There are some similarities between these approaches but also key differences that create different results and have a different impact. It is important to recognise these differences and how and when to use each approach when leading a team. 

Primary differences between coaching and teaching

Teaching aims to provide new knowledge and skills, while coaching aims to transfer responsibility for refining and developing knowledge and skills.

For instance, a new employee might receive instruction on using organizational systems and processes, followed by coaching to enhance these processes or enhance their own efficiency.

Teaching places ownership and responsibility on the teacher or the person with the knowledge. Coaching gives a lot more responsibility to the person being coached and encourages two-way communication between parties. 

For example, teaching may involve telling an employee the things they need to know or do in relation to their role and responsibilities, focusing on the basic duties and key performance indicators (KPIs, whereas coaching changes the conversation to being about how the employee can be accountable and take decisions to develop in the role further, improve their performance and own their KPIs.

What separates the coaching and teaching methodologies?

Both methodologies have the end goal of an individual developing skills acquiring knowledge or demonstrating new behaviours, but there some key differences between these two approaches when managing or supporting staff.

Usually, we consider a teacher as a subject matter expert in their chosen field, having more knowledge than the individuals they teach. Conversely, a coach, whether in an educational or business context, doesn’t necessarily have to be an expert in a specific skill or function. Instead, they must excel in asking the right questions and adeptly listening to both spoken and unspoken cues.

A coach imparts knowledge and introduces learnings, but also makes adjustments and provides feedback based on real-time information. Individuals receiving coaching usually possess some foundational knowledge and an understanding of how to approach the specific activity. The coach helps people “unlock” that knowledge and choose to use it in different ways by asking the right sort of questions. 

A teacher, on the other hand, introduces new ideas and topics to students who generally have little, if any, previous understanding of what is being taught. The teacher is dealing with more of a blank slate in this regard, where a coach is re-sculpting something that already exists. 

Another difference is the way in which a coach or teacher may communicate. Teaching is a generally a one-sided, directive and instructional conversation led by a ‘sage on the stage’, however, coaching is more two-way, ongoing and non-directive, where the coach is more the ‘guide on the side’, with the focus on the person being coached taking responsibility for their own decisions and actions. 

In practice

In a group situation, a facilitator might share a piece of knowledge and then leave it to the group to decide what it means for them, what’s their way forward might be and what they might do with that information now.

Generally, educators operate within a formal setting, where they establish clear roles and define specific tasks to achieve desired outcomes within a predetermined timeframe. On the other hand, coaching often takes place informally, whether it’s in staffrooms or corridors, often without the need for formal acknowledgment. This approach integrates coaching into an organization’s broader practices and activities, creating a pervasive culture.

These two methods, while sharing similar goals but differing in approach, provide alternative solutions for various situations and can yield significant benefits for different purposes.

What is the ideal approach for a leader to utilise in their team management?

A leader’s role is to guide, direct, and influence employees in the most productive and effective way possible. A teacher’s role involves fostering students’ independence in learning, requiring the use of various approaches and techniques to attain desired outcomes.

Overall leadership is naturally more aligned with coaching, so it’s helpful for every leader to be a professional coach to some degree. 

Coaching encourages and empowers individuals to think through and overcome the challenges they face in the workplace, which not only helps them develop personally and professionally, but also takes the onus away from leaders taking on more and more responsibility. This empowerment of staff can also increase employee engagement, motivate employees, and improve overall organisational productivity due to the level of trust and sense of fulfilment for all parties. 

Coaching may not provide the solutions or outcomes the leader is expecting, but with the right support and structure, a coaching culture could mean stronger, faster, and even better solutions.