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  • Writer's pictureCharles Gosset

What Exactly is Coaching?

Everything you need to know about what professional coaching is...and isn't.

In its simplest form, coaching is about helping another person achieve their personal or professional goals.

If you're like most people, you probably envision an athletic coach when you hear the word "coach", but they are two very different relationships.

A sports coach assists athletes in developing to their full athletic potential by analyzing their performance and providing instruction for relevant skills. A professional coach, on the other hand, helps their clients find clarity from within, overcome challenges with their own solutions, and ultimately accomplish their goals on their own terms.

Professional coaching, at its very best, is about helping people make profound and lasting shifts in their lives by pushing them to dig deeper so they can unlock their true potential.

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

What coaching is not

Coaching is sometimes confused with other one-on-one forms of personal support such as consulting, mentoring, training, or therapy.

Coaching isn’t consulting

Consultants improve situations; coaches improve people.

Clients hire a consultant (an external expert) to help them define their problems and formulate solutions. The consultant is usually viewed as the expert in what needs to be done and may go so far as to implement the solutions they recommend.

In contrast, a coach doesn’t have their own agenda and doesn’t use their personal experiences as a model of success for their client. The coaching methodology views clients as the “experts” in their own lives and businesses. A coach does not tell a client what to do but rather facilitates the client in discovering their own answers.

It might seem more expedient to just deliver advice, but research shows that people are much more likely to take ownership of, and follow through on, ideas that are their own, and thus, get the outcome they desire.

Coaching isn’t mentoring

A mentor says, “follow me.” A coach reveals where the client is standing on the map and asks, “where shall we go next?”

Mentoring can be likened to serving as a wise role model. Mentoring is usually about helping the mentee to emulate the mentor’s own success. A mentor is often chosen because they have traveled the road the mentee wishes to follow.

Unlike mentoring, where the mentee attempts to follow in the mentor’s footsteps and emulate their decisions and style, coaching techniques are designed to help individuals find their own path and discover their own strengths, skills, and blind spots. After all, just because one person was successful doing something one way, it does not guarantee that everyone will be equally successful following the same path, the same way.

A coach can certainly have valuable experience and insight in the client’s field, however, their value lies not in their technical expertise but in the ability to help a client draw from within their own experience and wisdom as they move ahead.

Coaching isn’t therapy

Therapy examines the past to help a client cope with the present. Coaching builds on the present to create the future.

Generally, therapists work to move their patient from a state of dysfunction to being a fully functional individual. Often this centers on resolving conflict within the individual or in a relationship, overcoming past issues, healing trauma, and sometimes managing mental illness. Therapy, therefore, must often deal with the past so that a patient can exist in the present.

Coaching clients, in contrast, are already working at a functional level. They’re on their feet, they have goals in mind, and it’s the coach’s job to help them see past the inner obstacles holding them back and empower them to take action so they can perform at an optimal level.

Coaching isn’t training

Training is curriculum focused. Coaching is client focused.

Training is an effective approach when specific skills or objectives must be mastered. An established curriculum is presented by a trainer or instructor, set objectives are met, and the material does not differ from person to person. A pre-test and post-test can even determine if the student successfully moved from point A to point B in their understanding of the subject.

Coaching is about guiding individuals or groups as they set and reach their own objectives. Unlike training, there is no clear path or set curriculum, it is less linear and more organic.

Coaching isn’t a best friend

A best friend has opinions and an agenda. A coach has a process.

Often times, the words a client uses to describe their relationship with their coach can make it sound like their coach is a best friend, a confidant who serves as a sounding board and trusted advisor.

But there’s a big difference between a best friend and a coach. When you talk to your best friend about something you’re struggling with, your friend will likely have their own opinions and judgements about the situation. It’s possible that they’ll have their own agenda in counseling you – and, even if that agenda has your best interest at heart, it’s still what your best friend thinks is best for you.

Your best friend is probably not a trained professional who you can trust to work with you on the most important aspects of your life (without injecting their own personal advice).

The coach approach

The coaching relationship is truly a collaborative effort that is solely based on what the client wants, and what they think they want to do. Coaches are professionally trained to be completely objective and non-judgmental.

They’re not attached to any outcome or decision their clients make, and they’re able to provide guidance and tools that help their clients implement solutions so they can get one step closer to living their best life.

What coaching can do for you

Professional coaching can provide a number of tangible and intangible benefits to clients, including:

  • developing greater self-awareness

  • improving self-confidence

  • increasing leadership effectiveness

  • discovering strengths

  • aligning with personal values

  • determining priorities

  • generating personal and professional growth plans

  • managing personal energy more effectively

  • decreasing stress and improving resilience

  • connecting with sense of purpose and passion

  • leading a courageous, authentic life

To sum it up

Coaching is about helping another person achieve their personal or professional goals. It has important differences from consulting, mentoring, therapy, training, and friendships.

Professional coaching provides a transformative space for people to make profound, lasting shifts in their lives by helping them to dig deep and unlock their full potential.

Reflect and connect

  • How is professional coaching different from your experiences with consulting, mentoring, therapy, training, or friendships?

  • What can you apply from this article to your own personal or professional growth plan?

  • How could coaching potentially benefit you or those you serve?

Post your comments below or connect with me to share your thoughts.


This article was reprinted from portions of "PROFESSIONAL COACHING: Everything You’ve Wanted to Know" by the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC).


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