Coaching Isn't a Dirty Word

August 07 2023
By: Shawn M. Galloway

Coaching is not the first step in employee discipline; counseling is. Both are important. Counseling can actually be a part of coaching when done correctly. But on their own, there is a vast difference between the two in how they are received and viewed. Language shapes culture. Words matter.

Have you played an organized sport? What did you see as the coaches' job? To help you and the team succeed. Have you ever been sent or gone to see a counselor? What did you see as their job? To help you deal with or overcome a problem or challenge. While certainly there is more to these definitions, it is how the person receiving feedback views the other party. Are they there to help me, or have I done something wrong?

Sign with symbol of a person saying a censored obscenity, in a red circle, with red diagonal line.

Counseling is typically triggered by performance that has already occurred. Coaching focuses more on encouraging future performance through feedback and facilitation, enabling and encouraging the skills necessary for success. In short, coaching is about helping people perform to the best of their ability, every time, everywhere.

Whether it is Tony Robbins, Marshall Goldsmith, or me, thousands of successful leaders hire people like us to help them perform to the best of their ability. They seek it out. Coaching should be a positive thing people are open to or reach for to excel. But when the term coaching is used to deal with an undesired performance issue or during the first step of discipline, no one wants to be in that situation, and receptiveness to helpful coaching feedback is blunted.

In your organization, are people seeking out coaching or avoiding it? A culture where feedback is sought out and accepted from external customers, vendors and partners, and any level within the business are routinely recognized as great places to work and dominate in the marketplace. A culture where coaching is perceived as bad will, at best, maintains the status quo, and at worst becomes irrelevant or obsolete. How is coaching viewed in your organization?

"…coaching looks at the present and how to improve to a future state and is more skill focused; and counseling looks at the past and how to improve for the future. Counseling is part of coaching, and coaching is part of mentoring." — Jim Thomas, U.S. Army, Retired, and Lt. Col. Ted Thomas, Ph.D., U.S. Army, Retired

"People don't mind being challenged to do better if they know the request is coming from a caring heart." — Ken Blanchard

"I never cease to be amazed at the power of the coaching process to draw out the skills or talent that was previously hidden within an individual, and which invariably finds a way to solve a problem previously thought unsolvable." — John Russell, Managing Director, Harley-Davidson Europe Ltd.

Shawn M. Galloway

Shawn M. Galloway is CEO of the global consultancy ProAct Safety. He is a trusted advisor, professional keynote speaker, and author of several bestselling books on safety strategy, culture, leadership, and behavior-based safety. He is a monthly columnist for several magazines and one of the most prolific contributors in the industry, having also authored over 700 podcasts, 200 articles, and 100 videos. Shawn has received awards and recognition for his significant contributions from the American Society of Safety Professionals, National Safety Council's Top 40 Rising Stars and Top Ten Speakers, EHS Today Magazine's 50 People Who Most Influenced EHS, ISHN Magazine's POWER 101 - Leaders of the EHS World and their newest list: 50 Leaders for Today and Tomorrow, Pro-Sapien's list of The Top 11 Health and Safety Influencers and is an Avetta Distinguished Fellow.

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