The Learning Coach: Integrating L&D with Coaching

by | Feb 27, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jane (not her real name) was a marketing manager whose 360-degree feedback painted her as stern and aloof. She wasn’t generating the rapport with stakeholders that was vital for career success.

So she signed up for a workshop in communication skills, believing that this would make her more effective in motivating her team and persuading clients. Although she learned about the mechanics such as vocal variety and body language, evaluators kept pointing out her stern facial expression. For example, she would test-drive an inspirational speech, yet her scowl was negating her message.

I asked Jane questions such as “Where is the scowl coming from?” and “What was going through your mind as you were delivering your speeches?”

Long story short, it surfaced that Jane grew up in a family that was struggling financially. Both her parents were busy working to make ends meet. Jane was the eldest of six siblings and it was up to her to discipline her younger brothers and sisters. She did so by adopting a tough “do as I say or else” façade.

It was effective; the siblings toed the line and became well-adjusted adults. But it left Jane with this invisible script of “if I were to get things done, I have to be stern” that spilled over to her speeches and yes, career. In other words, she was treating her team as if they were her siblings!

When Jane became aware of this mental model, she began to see her team and stakeholders differently. She was able to relax and became more engaging.

The Challenge

This brings us to another side of talent development. While we are all familiar with classic L&D tools such as Bloom’s taxonomy and ADDIE, coaching can unleash learning that traditional workshops cannot seem to reach.

Consider the sentence below. Would you say this would make for a great definition of L&D?

“partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

It may surprise you that this is how the International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching. ICF is widely regarded as laying the gold standard for coaching. Think of ICF as regulating the practice of professional coaching, the way lawyers and doctors are to meet rigorous standards.

Those familiar with Robert Greene’s book Mastery would pick up a provocative thought: how can you take two distinct disciplines and mesh them into a new, unique one? For example, he cites Yoky Matsuoka, who combined robotics with neuroscience to pioneer a whole new field that she dubbed neurobotics.

Can we do the same with L&D and coaching?

Contrasting Coaching with L&D

At first glance, one may view both as mutually exclusive or even incompatible. That may be valid considering two important distinctions:

First, coaching aims to be transformative while L&D tends to be transmissive and transactional.
Jane is an example of how transformative coaching can change the client’s perceptions of herself and/or her world, thereby deepening the learning from workshops. As for L&D, I refer to transmissive in the sense of conveying knowledge and skill, while transactional in terms of structured methodology, test scores, training hours, and return on investment. Put differently, coaching focuses on the being while L&D focuses on the doing.

Second, coaching believes there are two experts while in L&D there is one, i.e., the facilitator.

Contrary to some notions, it is not really accurate to say that in coaching, the client is the expert. The coach is the expert of the coaching process while the client is the expert of his context. Thus, an executive coach having a session with a banking CEO is not expected to know the intricacies about banking, but he is skilled in asking powerful questions to bring the CEO to the learning he desires.

In contrast, in a classic workshop, there is no doubt as to who is the expert. For example, in a PSDM training, the facilitator has mastered the skills while the client is (relatively speaking) still developing his. Put differently, in coaching, the learning is “drawn” inside-out of the client, while in L&D, the learning is “poured” outside-in to the client.

A Good Start

I want to make it clear that I am not saying L&D is somehow deficient or inferior. Both transformative coaching and L&D have their own objectives, strengths, limitations, and techniques. The question becomes: how can we have the best of both worlds and create a new paradigm of learning that marries the two?

Here’s one thought: incorporate reflection in your next L&D activity. When interviewing the stakeholders as part of the TNA process, ask questions such as “When you acquire the desired knowledge or skill, what positive impact will it make on you?” Notice I did not say “what positive impact will it make to the business” but on “you”, the person him/herself. If the client replies “I will have more confidence”, that is your cue to probe whether the implied lack of confidence can be addressed by training… or some other intervention as I did with Jane.

In my workshops or talks, I incorporate some reflection time. For example, in a PSDM course, I tell my audience, “It is not enough for you to know the tools. If you harbor self-limiting beliefs as a problem solver, you will still be hampered. So let’s start by asking how do you see yourself, your stakeholders, and your environment.”

When you combine transformative coaching and L&D, the sum can be greater than its parts. This can unlock deep learning not tapped in either sphere. That will be wonderful news for the Janes out there.

Can you imagine the possibilities?

About the Writer



Nelson T. Dy is a trainer, coach, speaker and author. In his day job, he manages two factories for a well-known beverage conglomerate, using both his chemical engineering and MBA degrees. He is also an active Toastmaster, guest preacher, and content creator. He aims to give value to PSTD through thought-leadership articles like the one you’ve just read.

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