What is Coaching?

Feb 3, 2020

‘Coaching’ is a popular title these days.  Everyone seems to either be a “coach” or have a coach. Yet, there remains pervasive confusion, and sometimes misunderstanding, about what exactly coaching is.  Let’s set the record straight!

How is coaching defined?

The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as: “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”  In the simplest terms, coaching helps someone get from point A (where they are) to point B (where they want to be).  “Well, that’s nice,” you may be thinking, but how is the coaching process different from other helping modalities?

What is coaching NOT?

Sometimes the easiest way to understand something is by gett ing clear on what it is not.   Although other modalities can also help someone get from point A to point B, coaching is distinct.  Here’s how: 


  • Helps client go from dysfunctional to functional;
  • Focuses on the past (i.e. how client got to where they are now).


  • Helps client go from functional to optimal;
  • Focuses on the future (i.e. helping client get from where they are now to where they want to be).


  • The consultant is the expert on how to solve the client’s problem;

  • The consultant tells the client what to do and leaves it to the client to implement the solution independently.


  • The client is the expert on how to solve the problem; the coach is the expert on the process/tools used to empower the client to uncover the solution to the problem;

  • The coach and the client co-create the solution and the coach provides ongoing motivation, partnering and accountability while the client implements solution. 


  • The mentor provides a “been there, done that” approach to the mentee;

  • The mentor is usually of the same professional background as the mentee, but is more “seasoned” or experienced.


  • The coach does not use his/her own experience as a model, but instead, empowers the client to uncover the path that’s best for him/her;

  • The coach need not be of the same professional background as the client (because the role of the coach is not to model for the client the “right” path). 


  • Friends typically have an agenda (even if just “I want what’s best for you” – they see what’s “best” through their own lens, and in that sense, they’re not objective);

  • Friends like to tell you what they think you should do.


  • The agenda is client-driven; the coach is objective and non-judgmental and empowers the client to uncover what he/she wants for him/herself;

  • The coach’s primary role is to listen critically and ask empowering questions.

How does someone become a coach?

Because coaching is an unregulated industry, anyone can call themself a “coach.”  However, the International Coaching Federation (ICF) — the gold-standard in coaching — prescribes certain core competencies, training guidelines, ethical obligations and continuing education requirements to become and remain a certified coach.  For instance, to become a Certified Professional Coach, I underwent hundreds of hours of intensive training and coaching and passed an examination through the Institute for Professional Excellence in Coaching (iPEC)(an ICF accredited coach training program).  Certification was important to me not only to satisfy my own desire for best-in-class training, but to certify to my clients that in addition to my significant experience, I am obligated to abide by all of the ethical requirements of the ICF.   

What distinguishes one coach from another?

Besides distinctions in certification and training, coaches have many different niches and focus areas ranging from relationships to health/wellness to executive/leadership and more. In my practice, high-achieving professionals and leaders partner with me to help unlock untapped potential and achieve optimal work/life integration, engagement, and performance. My approach to coaching is people-centric and outcome-driven. 

In addition to subject-matter focus, coaches have varying professional backgrounds, personalities and styles. For example, I practiced commercial litigation for a decade before becoming a coach. My legal experience equips me to understand complex business challenges and listen deeply to my clients to help connect abstract dots. Then together, we chart a path forward. I also bring force and love in equal measure – giving clients the firm push they often need, but also a soft landing.  

If you’re interested in exploring coaching for yourself or your team and would like to explore whether we’re a fit, I look forward to hearing from you!

“I’ve come to believe that coaching might be even more essential than mentoring to our careers and our teams. Whereas mentors dole out words of wisdom, coaches roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty. They don’t just believe in our potential; they get in the arena to help us realize our potential. They hold up a mirror so we can see our blind spots and they hold us accountable for working through our sore spots. They take responsibility for making us better without taking credit for our accomplishments.” 
-Adam Grant, Organizational Psychologist at Wharton

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