What Is Coaching?
Coaching is a professional partnership between a qualified coach and an
individual or team that supports the achievement of extraordinary
results, based on goals set by the individual or team. Through the
process of coaching, individuals focus on the skills and actions needed
to successfully produce their personally relevant results.
The individual or team chooses the focus of conversation, while the
coach listens and contributes observations and questions as well as
concepts and principles that can assist in generating possibilities and
identifying actions. Through the coaching process the clarity that is
needed to support the most effective actions is achieved.
Coaching accelerates the individual or team’s progress by providing
greater focus and awareness of possibilities, leading to more effective
choices. Coaching concentrates on where individuals are now and what
they are willing to do to get where they want to be in the future. ICF
member coaches recognize that results are a matter of the individual or
team’s intentions, choices and actions, supported by the coach's efforts
and application of coaching skills, approaches and methods.
The questions below provide additional information about professional coaching.
1. How can you determine if coaching is right for you?
To determine if you could benefit from coaching, start by summarizing
what you would expect to accomplish in coaching. When someone has a
fairly clear idea of the desired outcome, a coaching partnership can be a
useful tool for developing a strategy for how to achieve that outcome
with greater ease.
Since coaching is a partnership, also ask yourself if you find it
valuable to collaborate, to have another viewpoint and to be asked to
consider new perspectives. Also, ask yourself if you are ready to devote
the time and the energy to making real changes in your work or life. If
the answer to these questions is yes, then coaching may be a beneficial
way for you to grow and develop.
2. What are the benefits of coaching?
Individuals who engage in a coaching relationship can expect to
experience fresh perspectives on personal challenges and opportunities,
enhanced thinking and decision making skills, enhanced interpersonal
effectiveness, and increased confidence in carrying out their chosen
work and life roles. Consistent with a commitment to enhancing their
personal effectiveness, they can also expect to see appreciable results
in the areas of productivity, personal satisfaction with life and work,
and the achievement of personally relevant goals.
3. What are some typical reasons someone might work with a coach?
There are many reasons that an individual or team might choose to work with a coach, including but not limited to the following:
- There is something at stake (a challenge, stretch goal or
opportunity), and it is urgent, compelling or exciting or all of the
- There is a gap in knowledge, skills, confidence, or resources
- A big stretch is being asked or required, and it is time sensitive
- There is a desire to accelerate results
- There is a need for a course correction in work or life due to a setback
- An individual has a style of relating that is ineffective or is
not supporting the achievement of one’s personally relevant goals
- There is a lack of clarity, and there are choices to be made
- The individual is extremely successful, and success has started to become problematic
- Work and life are out of balance, and this is creating unwanted consequences
- One has not identified his or her core strengths and how best to leverage them
- The individual desires work and life to be simpler, less complicated
- There is a need and a desire to better organized and more self-managing
4. What has caused the tremendous growth in the coaching industry?
Coaching has grown significantly for many reasons. Generally the
world has changed a lot, and coaching is a useful tool to deal with many
of those changes. For example, coaching is a great tool for today's
challenging job market. There is more job transition, more
self-employment and small business. Some of the real life factors
- Rapid changes in the external business environment
- Downsizing, restructuring, mergers and other organizational
changes have radically altered what has been termed the “traditional
employment contract”—companies can no longer achieve results usin
traditional management approaches
- There is a growing shortage of talented employees in certain
industries—to attract and retain top talent, companies must commit to
investing in individuals’ development
- There is a widening disparity between what managers were trained
to do and what their jobs now require them to do in order to meet
increasing demands for competitive results
- There is unrest on the part of many employees and leaders in
many companies—people are wrestling with fears around job insecurity and
increased workplace pressures to perform at higher levels than ever
- Companies must develop inclusive, collaborative work
environments, in order to achieve strategic business goals, and to
maintain high levels of customer satisfaction.
- In addition, individuals who have experienced the excellent
results of coaching are talking to more people about coaching. In short,
coaching helps people focus on what matters most to them in life:
business and personal. People today are more open to the idea of being
in charge of their own lives. Coaching helps people do just that; so the
industry continues to grow.
5. How is coaching delivered? What does the process look like?
Assessments — A variety of assessments are available
to support the coaching process, depending upon the needs and
circumstances of the individual. Assessments provide objective
information that can enhance the individual’s self-awareness as well as
awareness of others and their circumstances, provide a benchmark for
creating coaching goals and actionable strategies, and offer a method
for evaluating progress.
Concepts, models and principles — A variety of
concepts, models and principles drawn from the behavioral sciences,
management literature, spiritual traditions and/or the arts and
humanities, may be incorporated into the coaching conversation in order
to increase the individual’s self-awareness and awareness of others,
foster shifts in perspective, promote fresh insights, provide new
frameworks for looking at opportunities and challenges, and energize and
inspire the individual’s forward actions.
Appreciative approach — Coaching incorporates an
appreciative approach. The appreciative approach is grounded in what’s
right, what’s working, what’s wanted, and what’s needed to get there.
Using an appreciative approach, the coach models constructive
communication skills and methods the individual or team can utilize to
enhance personal communication effectiveness. The appreciative approach
incorporates discovery-based inquiry, proactive (as opposed to reactive)
ways of managing personal opportunities and challenges, constructive
framing of observations and feedback in order to elicit the most
positive responses from others, and envisioning success as contrasted
with focusing on problems. The appreciative approach is simple to
understand and employ, but its effects in harnessing possibility
thinking and goal-oriented action can be profound.
6. What should someone look for when selecting a coach?
The most important thing to look for in selecting a coach is to find
someone you trust to be competent, committed to your welfare, able to
challenge and support you and willing to keep their commitments to you.
Some questions you may want to ask potential coaches are:
- What is your coaching experience? (number of individuals coaches, years of experience, types of situations)
- What is your coach specific training? Do you hold an ICF credential, or are you enrolled in an ICF accredited training program?
- What is your coaching specialty or client areas you most often work in?
- What specialized skills or experience do you bring to your coaching?
- What is your philosophy about coaching?
- What is your specific process for coaching? (how sessions are conducted, frequency, etc.)
- What are some coaching success stories? (specific examples of
individuals who have done well and examples of how you have added value)
7. How long does a coach work with an individual?
The length of a coaching partnership varies depending on the
individual's or team’s needs and preferences. For certain types of
focused coaching, 3 to 6 months of working with a coach may work. For
other types of coaching, people may find it beneficial to work with a
coach for a longer period. Factors that may impact the length of time
include: the types of goals, the ways individuals or teams like to work,
the frequency of coaching meetings, and financial resources available
to support coaching.
8. How do you ensure a compatible partnership?
Overall, be prepared to design the coaching partnership with the
coach. For example, think of a strong partnership that you currently
have in your work or life. Look at how you built that relationship and
what is important to you about partnership. You will want to build those
same things into a coaching relationship. Here are a few other tips:
- Have a personal interview with one or more coaches to determine
“what feels right” in terms of the chemistry. Coaches are accustomed to
being interviewed, and there is generally no charge for an introductory
conversation of this type
- Look for stylistic similarities and differences between the
coach and you and how these might support your growth as an individual
or the growth of your team
- Discuss your goals for coaching within the context of the
coach’s specialty or the coach’s preferred way of working with a
individual or team
- Talk with the coach about what to do if you ever feel things are
not going well; make some agreements up front on how to handle
questions or problems
- Remember that coaching is a partnership, so be assertive about
talking with the coach about anything that is of concern at any time
9. Within the partnership, what does the coach do? The individual?
The role of the coach is to provide objective
assessment and observations that foster the individual’s or team
members’ enhanced self-awareness and awareness of others, practice
astute listening in order to garner a full understanding of the
individual’s or team’s circumstances, be a sounding board in support of
possibility thinking and thoughtful planning and decision making,
champion opportunities and potential, encourage stretch and challenge
commensurate with personal strengths and aspirations, foster the shifts
in thinking that reveal fresh perspectives, challenge blind spots in
order to illuminate new possibilities, and support the creation of
alternative scenarios. Finally, the coach maintains professional
boundaries in the coaching relationship, including confidentiality, and
adheres to the coaching profession’s code of ethics.
The role of the individual or team is to create the
coaching agenda based on personally meaningful coaching goals, utilize
assessment and observations to enhance self-awareness and awareness of
others, envision personal and/or organizational success, assume full
responsibility for personal decisions and actions, utilize the coaching
process to promote possibility thinking and fresh perspectives, take
courageous action in alignment with personal goals and aspirations,
engage in big picture thinking and problem solving skills, and utilize
the tools, concepts, models and principles provided by the coach to
engage effective forward actions.
10. What does coaching ask of an individual?
To be successful, coaching asks certain things of the individual, all of which begin with intention.
- Focus — on one’s self, the tough questions, the hard truths--and one’s success
- Observation — the behaviors and communications of others
- Listening — to one’s intuition, assumptions, judgments, and to the way one sounds when one speaks
- Self discipline — to challenge existing attitudes, beliefs and behaviors and to develop new ones which serve one’s goals in a superior way
- Style — leveraging personal strengths and overcoming limitations in order to develop a winning style
- Decisive actions — however uncomfortable, and in spite of personal insecurities, in order to reach for the extraordinary
- Compassion — for one’s self as he or she experiments with new behaviors, experiences setbacks—and for others as they do the same
- Humor — committing to not take one’s self so seriously, using humor to lighten and brighten any situation
- Personal control — maintaining composure in the face of disappointment and unmet expectations, avoiding emotional reactivity
- Courage — to reach for more than before, to
shift out of being fear based in to being in abundance as a core
strategy for success, to engage in continual self examination, to
overcome internal and external obstacles.
11. How can the success of the coaching process be measured?
Measurement may be thought of in two distinct ways. First, there are
the external indicators of performance: measures that can be seen and
measured in the individual’s or team’s environment. Second, there are
internal indicators of success: measures which are inherent within the
individual or team members being coached and can be measured by the
individual or team being coached with the support of the coach. Ideally,
both external and internal metrics are incorporated.
Examples of external measures include achievement of
coaching goals established at the outset of the coaching relationship,
increased income/revenue, obtaining a promotion, performance feedback
which is obtained from a sample of the individual’s constituents (e.g.,
direct reports, colleagues, customers, boss, the manager him/herself),
personal and/or business performance data (e.g., productivity,
efficiency measures). The external measures selected should ideally be
things the individual is already measuring and are things the individual
has some ability to directly influence.
Examples of internal measures include
self-scoring/self-validating assessments that can be administered
initially and at regular intervals in the coaching process, changes in
the individual’s self-awareness and awareness of others, shifts in
thinking which inform more effective actions, and shifts in one’s
emotional state which inspire confidence.
12. What are the factors that should be considered when looking at the financial investment in coaching?
Working with a coach requires both a personal commitment of time and
energy as well as a financial commitment. Fees charged vary by specialty
and by the level of experience of the coach. Individuals should
consider both the desired benefits as well as the anticipated length of
time to be spent in coaching. Since the coaching relationship is
predicated on clear communication, any financial concerns or questions
should be voiced in initial conversations before the agreement is made.
13. How is coaching distinct from other service professions?
Professional coaching is a distinct service that focuses on an
individual’s life as it relates to goal setting, outcome creation and
personal change management. In an effort to understand what a coach
does, it can be helpful to distinguish coaching from other professions
that provide personal or organizational support.
- Therapy - Coaching can be distinguished from
therapy in a number of ways. First, coaching is a profession that
supports personal and professional growth and development based on
individual-initiated change in pursuit of specific actionable outcomes.
These outcomes are linked to personal or professional success. Coaching
is forward moving and future focused. Therapy, on the other hand, deals
with healing pain, dysfunction and conflict within an individual or a
relationship between two or more individuals. The focus is often on
resolving difficulties arising from the past which hamper an
individual's emotional functioning in the present, improving overall
psychological functioning, and dealing with present life and work
circumstances in more emotionally healthy ways. Therapy outcomes often
include improved emotional/feeling states. While positive
feelings/emotions may be a natural outcome of coaching, the primary
focus is on creating actionable strategies for achieving specific goals
in one's work or personal life. The emphasis in a coaching relationship
is on action, accountability and follow through.
- Consulting - Consultants may be retained by
individuals or organizations for the purpose of accessing specialized
expertise. While consulting approaches vary widely, there is often an
assumption that the consultant diagnoses problems and prescribes and
sometimes implements solutions. In general, the assumption with coaching
is that individuals or teams are capable of generating their own
solutions, with the coach supplying supportive, discovery-based
approaches and frameworks.
- Mentoring - Mentoring, which can be thought of
as guiding from one’s own experience or sharing of experience in a
specific area of industry or career development, is sometimes confused
with coaching. Although some coaches provide mentoring as part of their
coaching, such as in mentor coaching new coaches, coaches are not
typically mentors to those they coach.
- Training - Training programs are based on the
acquisition of certain learning objectives as set out by the trainer or
instructor. Though objectives are clarified in the coaching process,
they are set by the individual or team being coached with guidance
provided by the coach. Training also assumes a linear learning path
which coincides with an established curriculum. Coaching is less linear
without a set curriculum plan.
- Athletic Development - Though sports metaphors
are often used, professional coaching is different from the traditional
sports coach. The athletic coach is often seen as an expert who guides
and directs the behavior of individuals or teams based on his or her
greater experience and knowledge. Professional coaches possess these
qualities, but it is the experience and knowledge of the individual or
team that determines the direction. Additionally, professional coaching,
unlike athletic development, does not focus on behaviors that are being
executed poorly or incorrectly. Instead, the focus is on identifying
opportunity for development based on individual strengths and
DEVELOPED BY: ICF Branding and Marketing Subcommittee
(Jan Austin, MCC, Val Williams, MCC, Nora Klaver, MCC and Ariane Cherbuliez, PCC)