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In a recent meeting with a major client my consultant team and I were faced with an unusual request.

A transgender executive working for the organization had been facing a series of small but cumulatively damaging setbacks in her career after many years of success. Her slow-motion derailment was harming the performance of her team, which was tasked with a high-stakes, high-visibility project. She had transitioned (from male- to female-presenting) two years earlier and she believed the perceived lag in her performance was not about her actual results, but about her now more-visible gender identity. The organization wanted to invest in the executive’s development and needed help finding her a coach.

It turned out I was the only one in the room who had experience working with transgender clients, but before I could gather more information, one of the leaders jumped in eagerly with a suggestion: “Well, why don’t we call up the local chapter of the Human Rights Campaign and see if anyone there can coach her?” Several heads nodded.

My heart sank. These educated, well-intended professionals had just made the same error too many of our clients make — confusing coaching with mentoring.

As a professional coach and former fitness instructor, there are parallels between the two disciplines that can be helpful in making a distinction between coaching and mentoring.

Before the modern fitness movement first began in the U.S., gyms, sports and various forms of dance and exercise already existed. In the late 1970s and early ’80s, programs such as Jazzercise emerged, and Richard Simmons and Jane Fonda helped popularize a whole new form of intense, rhythmic exercise done to upbeat music.

In those early years, almost anyone who was charismatic and a good dancer could lead an “aerobics” class. However, driven by increasing popularity, the exuberance of innovation soon gave way to widely varying levels of quality among aerobics classes and instructors, some of which seriously injured participants. Over time, the industry developed standards, ethics and certification guidelines so that today, fitness instructors are mostly well trained and accountable, and class participants enjoy both safety and effective guidance in meeting their wellness goals.

Coaching is similar in that the term “coaching” existed long before the coaching field, and some aspects of what we today refer to as “coaching” have always been performed by skilled therapists, bosses, clergy, healers, elders and even close friends. However, these similarities, as well as the recent explosion of the coaching field, have contributed to both confusion about what coaching is and widely varying degrees of quality among coaches even as the field has adopted certification procedures, a code of ethics and credentialing requirements. Read the rest on Workforce!

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