What Coaching Is, And What It Isn’t

Barb McAllister, MS, MCC. I’ve been a professional coach for 17 years. Even today, I still sometimes forget to make sure I clearly convey what coaching is and what it isn’t to a prospective client. When it isn’t clear, the client may assume that I’m going to tell them what to do or give advice about how to solve their problem. So if they are looking for someone to tell them what to do, they may be disappointed, confused or frustrated when I eventually explain that that isn’t what I do as a coach. Not a great way to start with someone.  

I bet you may have found yourself in a similar situation at the start of a coaching engagement. What I have learned is that it’s never too late to clarify what coaching is, but of course it’s best done prior to the start of an engagement. I have found that it is important to both say what coaching is — and equally important — to say what it isn’t.

I like this definition of what coaching is by “The Institute For Life Coach Training.” They define coaching as “a professional relationship that helps people produce extraordinary results in their lives, careers, businesses or organizations, helping them to bridge the gap between where they are now and where they want to be.” Coaches do this by being a thought partner who asks powerful questions, listens deeply, and notices patterns. Coaches help people get unstuck and reach goals through a structured approach which promotes accountability. Getting out of your comfort zone is necessary to move forward, so coaches help clients manage their fears and stress.  Coaching helps equip clients to face challenges. A coaching relationship is a partnership, and all answers come from the client not the coach.

Coaching is NOT consulting. The big difference is that consultants give advice to their clients based on their experience. Consultants are hired because they have a certain kind of expertise that is needed to analyze the client’s situation or organization. Coaches do not give advice.

Coaching is NOT mentoring. Mentors offer guidance from their more experienced perspective. Typically a mentor may be someone who works in the same line of business, only longer, so they have more experiences under their belt. Mentors transfer knowledge, advice and experience. Coaches rarely share their experience and knowledge.

Coaching is NOT training. A training follows a curriculum which is based on learning objectives. Once designed, a training curriculum is generally set. Coaching is customized for every client based on their needs and their own desired outcomes. 

For more, read “What’s the Difference Between Coaching and Training?” and “Do I Need a Coach or a Consultant?

To learn more about how coaching can help you, schedule a consultation with Barb.