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  • Writer's pictureJeremy Noble

What is Coaching?

“Coaching” is a buzzword that seems to be ever-growing in popularity in today’s corporate culture. Most people have at least an idea of what coaching is, but few actually know what separates coaching from other forms of helping like teaching, mentoring, or consulting. And, even fewer know that there are different types of coaching for clients at different stages of professional development.

Professional coaching is a partnership or alliance between a coach and client. It’s a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires the client to maximize their personal and professional potential. The aim is to facilitate the identification of personal, professional, or business goals and to develop and carry out a plan for achieving those goals. In a nutshell, the goal of coaching is to help you, the client, move from where you are now to where you want to be.

However, it’s not as straightforward as it sounds. People don’t automatically form new habits because a coach tells them to. The mechanism by which competent coaching works is one that requires an understanding of the science of human behavior and a talent in the art of active and reflective listening.

How Coaching Works

Let’s start by pointing out a less-known truth: advice-giving does NOT work. Human beings crave autonomy. Any threats to that autonomy, such as telling someone what to do, is often met with resistance. This resistance is called Psychological Reactance. If you want a quick example of Psychological Reactance in action, do a Google Image search of “people disobeying signs.” This is the same reason ad campaigns like Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” program in the 1980s did nothing to reduce drug use across America- a one billion dollar lesson that human beings are adamantly opposed to being bossed around.

Give someone unsolicited advice, and they are actually more likely to do the opposite of what you suggest. This even applies to those in helping professions. When a medical doctor tells a patient they should quit smoking, it automatically elicits from the patient reasons why they shouldn’t quit: “I don’t smoke that much,” “My grandfather lived until he was 99 and smoked every day of his life,” “Smoking isn’t my real problem,” “He doesn’t know me and all the stressors of my life.” The problem with this reaction is that these thoughts move the thinker ever-so-subtly in the wrong direction- away from changing their behavior.

Coaching is no exception. If a coach approaches the coach-client relationship with a barrage of advice, that isn’t coaching; that’s mentorship. Coaching should be a collaborative and thought-provoking exchange between the coach and client. The expert on the client is and always will be the client. The coach is the expert on behavior change. They are the facilitator for change but never responsible for it. The client retains all the autonomy. The coaching relationship is simply the vehicle for change to occur.

Is Coaching Helpful?

The short answer is absolutely. Coaching deepens learning, improves performance, and enhances life quality. It’s a dedicated time to work through your most complicated professional problems or to simply take an accurate assessment of your life and identify ways to make it better. It’s gym time for your personal and professional development. There’s a reason why some of the most successful CEOs have had coaches. They understood the importance of deliberately working on their own development with the guidance of a trusted (and qualified) professional partner.

Types of Coaching

At its core, professional coaching is about behavior change. But, coaching can take on many different shapes depending on the need of the client.

Coaching for Skills

This is the simplest form of coaching where a client has a specific skill to improve. It’s intended to be brief, can be as little as one session, and is solution-focused, meaning it’s specifically about improving a skill or completing a project. For example, let’s say someone wants to be more organized at work. That person may meet with a coach to generate specific strategies for improving their organization skills like better prioritizing tasks or learning to say “no” to unimportant requests. These are specific skills that they could acquire and/or develop during coaching.

Coaching for Performance

This is a deeper form of coaching that is focused on improving the context of the client’s career or personal life. It is less about skill acquirement and more about exploring professional values and goals. Coaching for performance typically spans over multiple months as goals are more long-term. A client interested in growing her professional network and becoming more accomplished in her field may require this type of coaching. With her coach, she may identify networking events to attend as ways to expand her network. She may even role-play small talk with her coach to polish her social skills in preparation for these events.

Coaching for Development

This type of coaching is a step deeper than coaching for performance, as it’s intended to help clients develop as individuals and is focused on long-term career goals. Goals include the development of competencies that will facilitate promotion or new career opportunities. Coaching for Development typically spans a calendar year or more. An example of this type of coaching could be a senior leader who has received feedback that his leadership style is too negative or aggressive. He may work with a coach to explore the etiology of this leadership style, its benefits and drawbacks, and ways to adjust his approach to reach the next level of development.

Coaching for the Executive Agenda

This is the most involved form of coaching, as it involves years of regularly held coaching sessions and may encompass all of the previously mentioned types of coaching. As leaders progress up the hierarchy in their respective fields, their self-awareness tends to become stagnant. They have fewer and fewer peers to give them candid feedback and the voices they do hear are those attempting to get in their good graces. These leaders often benefit from having a confidant- someone to bounce ideas off, explore different perspectives, get constructive feedback, etc. This type of coaching can be a differentiator for an up-and-coming leader and may keep them on azimuth as they navigate more complex strategic objectives.


Wondering if you could benefit from coaching? If you are someone who is growth-minded and interested in self-improvement, then coaching is for you. Whether you want to become better organized at work, are interested in improving your social skills, or you have your sights set on becoming the next CEO of your company, coaching can be a staple in your path to achieving your goals.

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