There are Two Types of Coaches. Which are You?

Z-2When you look out at the vast ecosystem of teaching and coaching, you see two main species: people who are focused on building skill, and people who are focused on building people.

Most coaches and teachers are in the skill-building business. They spend their time thinking about how to get better. They understand technique and strategy and information. They specialize in the “how” — that is, giving people tools to improve.

People builders, on the other hand, are  focused not just on on skills, but on connecting with the learner and guiding the growth process. They use a toolkit of emotional skills to build relationships. They operate on a deeper level, specializing in tapping into the “why,” accessing the deepest wells of grit and motivation that drive progress over time.

Here’s a quick and wildly unscientific quiz to see where you fit:

  • A) I treat everybody as mostly the same
  • B) I treat people as individuals, with unique motivations, strengths, and weaknesses


  • A) I focus on drills and repetition
  • B) I focus on awareness and feedback, and helping the learner take ownership of the process


  • A) I focus on delivering the knowledge to drive improvement
  • B) I focus on building partnerships to create the knowledge together


  • A) I’m fascinated by designing drills
  • B) I’m fascinated by building plans, tools, and systems


  • A) I’m obsessed with progress
  • B) I’m obsessed with process


If you answered A) to most, you incline toward being a skill builder; if you answered B), you incline toward being a people builder. I think most of us would agree that being a people builder is probably a more powerful role to play. But what we might not appreciate is how simple it is to become one.

Here’s an example: the teachers at Geared to Golf Performance Center in Ontario started off a recent session by having the students answer a simple question: What is your motivational fuel as an athlete? They then shared the answers on this whiteboard.


It’s not exactly brain science; it probably took all of ten minutes to accomplish. But consider the effect: in one short exercise, the individual motivations of each learner are made apparent, both to themselves and to all the teachers. This isn’t just skill-building — this is partnering with the learner.

Another of my favorite people-building tools I’ve come across is KIPP’s framework for excellent teaching, which they use to guide their efforts to develop the talents of their teachers. It looks like this:


Check out the way it combines the various elements of teaching and centers all the them on student growth. This kind of model — as simple as it is — can be a powerful influence in a culture, because it places the skill sets in a social context. It connects people so they can grow together.

Do you happen to have any people-building tools or ideas you’d like to share? Feel free to share them below!

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