We often talk about how managers need to be great leaders and in the same breath, how they also need to be great coaches. In fact, we often use the words leader and coach interchangeably. Are they the same or is there a difference between coaching and leading?

While coaching and leadership are intrinsically linked, I believe they are different. And I also believe to be truly effective you MUST separate them when you train on how to lead or how to coach.  In a nutshell, leadership is defined as establishing a vision and helping others understand the path to achieve that vision. Coaching is more personal and focused on providing direction to help individuals become better. Although leading and coaching do overlap, we should really stop using these terms interchangeably. To excel at each one requires a somewhat different skill set and approach when compared to the other.

To excel at coaching requires a true coaching mindset, a trusted connection with the employee, and an ongoing, collaborative process to systematically improve performance. It involves the ability to ask questions and to guide an individual towards self-actualization. Coaches are more involved in the details, the day-to-day activities. They need to establish trust with their people to develop mutually agreed upon solutions.

Leaders have a different focus. They need to inspire. Leaders need to be able to convince others to believe what they believe—that they possess the knowledge and ability to take their team of individuals to where they need to go. To do this effectively, they need to be superb communicators and be able to stir people’s emotions. Effective leaders understand and eloquently communicate the “why” of what they are doing. Leaders provide the purpose and motivate others to action.

Although these two concepts may be intertwined, when seeking ways to grow and develop both leaders and coaches, it makes sense to train them on those specific aspects that are unique to the particular role. Although both roles are focused on creating a better future, the leader is creating a future for all employees/team members/followers whereas the coach is partnering with an individual to create a plan that will enable that person to develop the future that’s best suited to their talents and abilities.

Both leaders and coaches are essential for any business to succeed. When they excel, they can make a dramatic difference in how well the company operates, the quality of their product/deliverables, and the bottom line. And because both great coaches and leaders are developed and not born, superb training is usually required to pave the way for excellence.