by | Feb 1, 2017 | Coach School

What Is Coaching, exactly? How to get the best from coaching in today’s marketplace


Coaching is not a regulated industry which means that anyone can call themselves a coach legitimately, but that does not mean that all coaches are created equally.

For every success story, there are at least as many failed coaching relationships, and as a certified coach for over a decade, that makes me sad.

I have had my own amazing experiences, and others that have left me feeling violated, and abused my so called coach.

At the end of this article, you will be able to enter your next, or first, coaching relationship with your eyes wide open which should contribute to a stellar experience free from unwelcome surprises.


The definition of coaching

I think this mishmash and oftentimes mistrust, of coaching experiences, is down to a fundamental misunderstanding of what we are getting ourselves into when we hire a coach.

And when you look at the definitions, it is little wonder.

For example, defines a coach as

“a person who trains an athlete or a team of althetes: a football coach

a private tutor who prepares a student for an examination

a person who instructs an actor or singer”

and this is absolutely true.

Yet when I researched the definitions of coaching from the International Coach Federation and the Association for Coaching respectively, these are the descriptions that I came across:

ICF defines coaching as

“partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment.” International Coach Federation


“A collaborative solution-focused, results-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth of the coachee.” Association for Coaching


These descriptions, even though wordy, do paint a very different picture of what coaching is.


And all of them are completely true and valid, but that doesn’t help you as a client, or coach to embark on the clearest of relationships.

I find that it helps to introduce the help of some other terms at this point to distinguish the potential relationships and expectations for each:



Any new skills that are to be learned would fall into this category for me. For example, sports, music, dance, maths, creative writing etc would fall into this category.  This is where new information is being introduced for the first time, and taught to students. This is where I would use the description that provided.


Mentoring is where the mentor shares their own experience with their mentee. They will help the mentee to achieve what they have achieved by giving guidance and demonstration of how they achieved the goal.  There is a proven path that the mentor has walked. There may be some teaching involved.  I see a number of coaching programs, particularly online, that would fall into this category.


Coaching is a set of skills that the coach possesses that can be applied in any situation and the coach may not have experienced the goal that the client seeks. The coach does not teach or share information with the client; instead they skillfully elicit the answers from the client themselves. This is borne of a fundamental belief that the client has all the answers already.

My rule of thumb is that if there is content (information) involved, then this not coaching.


Key Takeaway

Coaching is a broad term for a number of different relationships. As a client, it is important to understand what type of relationship you want for you.


What is coaching exactly?

When we talk in terms of life coaching, and performance coaching (including business and executive coaching) we are embracing this definition:  

Coaching is a process of unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. Gallwey, cited in Whitmore (1996)

In addition to the belief that the client holds all the answers, there are five fundamentals or principles of coaching that should be understood by both coach and client.


5 Fundamentals or Principles of Coaching

1. Suspend Judgement

In order to suspend one’s judgment, one needs to have the attitude of ‘I will coach my client as they are now, where they are now without my judgment clouding their uniqueness or current situation’. For whatever reason, if one feels that it is not possible to suspend ones judgments, one should recommend the client to see another coach.

2. Future versus Past

Coaching is future oriented but we also must be grounded in the present. If a client seems to be stuck in the past, perhaps it is better to advise him/her to see a therapist (more past oriented). A ‘coaching type of client’ is interested in working with the coach on what they want to create in their own life for the future right now.

3. Solutions Focused versus Problem Based

To enable a client to move forward effectively the coach must facilitate solutions. Problems and failures should not be dwelt upon but learnt from. It is the coach’s responsibility to ensure that the coaching focuses on what the clients wants and the solutions that are needed to overcome their problems.

4. Action Orientated

It is easy to say ‘I would like to work out to feel better physically’, however we all know that it is not enough to make that statement: it requires taking – action! The same goes for coaching sessions: to simply map out goals, but to take no action toward them is just as unlikely to bring about results as us thinking we will get toned muscles just by saying we want them – without working out. It’s important to remember that the client can come to the coaching, but if they don’t act upon the commitments that are made in the coaching then they will not get results.

5. Celebration Focused

After every achieved effort that is meaningful to us as individuals we must take the time to celebrate it. By celebrating we are associating positive feelings of happiness and joy to reaching our goals. In the future when we want to achieve other goals we automatically conjure up those past positive feelings of happiness and joy and we are more likely to follow through with future goals.


This takes us a step closer to understand the pillars upon which coaching is built, but what is it exactly, and what is it not?

Coaching is:

  • Clarifying what a client wants from life
  • Setting and implementing goals
  • Uncovering values
  • Monitoring progress
  • Providing an environment for positive change
  • Providing accountability
  • Motivating a client
  • Correcting non-achievement
  • Identifying plans and action steps for change
  • Staying focused with clarity on a client’s vision

Coaching is not:

  • Providing counseling with past issues
  • Mentoring and telling a client what to do
  • Discussing issues a client is hesitant to explore
  • A social conversation
  • Fixed to the coach’s agenda


The coaching relationship is highly collaborative with the client performing the majority of the talking in each coaching session prompted skillfully by the coach.  Together, actions are designed to ensure that the client reaches their desired goals.


However, it is not all about taking action. A skilled coach will also be able to expertly and gently, challenge their client on obstacles to their goal, whilst helping the client to learn and understand more about themselves. This results in empowerment that lasts a lifetime.


Key Takeaway

Coaches believe that their clients have all the answers, and that their purpose is to help uncover them.


What you can expect in a coaching relationship

Coaching can be an incredibly powerful experience. Below are just a few of the my clients’ experiences:

“Two sessions with Lorraine changed my life”

“What Lorraine can do with just a few words blows my mind”

“Lorraine has a superpower”

“Lorraine, you are a miracle worker”


Now I do not share these statements to stroke my ego. In fact, the opposite is true. Whilst my ego would love for me to believe that I am somehow special or unique, I know that the actions that I took that resulted in this feedback, were simple and can be learned.

What makes the client experience so powerful is that by using skills of listening, questioning and creating a safe space, the client is able to explore themselves at a far deeper level than if they were following instruction.

This is what you will experience from a coach who abides by the definitions we have discussed in this article:

  • A safe and confidential space in which to explore your goals
  • A minimum period for the relationship (this ensures that the coach has space to build momentum for the client)
  • An agreement that outlines the expectations of both client and coach
  • To be fully heard in each session
  • Challenge through artful questioning techniques that encourage you to dig deeper, and examine your values and beliefs
  • Exploration of a number of opportunities to reach your goals
  • Accountability for agreed actions
  • Celebration of your successes


For this to happen it is important that you select a coach that you connect with. Referrals can be a great place to start, however it is vital that you meet with your prospective coach before hiring them as the whole relationship hinges on strong rapport. Without an initial connection, trust and rapport cannot be built and that will have a detrimental impact on results.

Luckily, seasoned coaches are well aware of this, and select their clients accordingly. They understand that the best matches get the best results, and that is as good for them as it is for their clients.


Key Takeaway

The most powerful results come from designing your own solutions with the help of a masterful coach


In review of what we have covered so far:

Coaching is a broad term for a number of different relationships. As a client, it is important to understand what type of relationship you want for you.

Coaches believe that their clients have all the answers, and that their purpose is to help uncover them.

The most powerful results come from designing your own solutions with the help of a masterful coach


In conclusion,these skills can be applied in any context, which is why coaching has become so ubiquitous in recent years. As more and more people and businesses witness the power of a great coaching relationship, the demand for it continues to grow. And with any growth industry, there will be those who seek to benefit without the proper training, skills and ethics.


It can be tough to know what you need as a client, when you are seeking help, but by recognising that there are a myriad options for coaching relationships and identifying what you need most, and how you want to be coached is the first, most powerful step in achieving the results that you desire, and deserve.  It is also worth remembering that you may have many coaches, mentors and instructors over the course of your life/career/business. These relationships can be short or lengthy.


For exceptional results from coaching, it is necessary to enter the coaching relationship with your eyes open. This means ensuring that there are no unwelcome surprises, and setting clear expectations for both coach and client from the outset. Interview your coach in the same way that you would interview any other team member.