Understanding the 9 Kinds of Coach

8 Types of Coach

Understanding the 9 Kinds of Coach

The core skills and practices of coaching underpin every coach’s work.  However, the way in which those practices show up and are used will depend on how the coach works, where they work and with whom they work.

In a sense, this is utterly unique to each coach but we can also identify nine main types of coach.

Having an idea of these will help you get a sense of the direction you want to go in and support you choosing a coaching course and becoming a coach.

The eagle-eyed reader may notice that the URL says 8-types-of-coach and that’s because we have added the Therapist Coach as ninth coaching type since it was originally written.

The 9 Kinds of Coach

The 8 types of coach can be defined as:

  1. Life Coach
  2. Executive Coach
  3. Corporate/Organisational Coach
  4. Niche-Specific Coach
  5. Internal Coach
  6. Manager as Coach
  7. Team Coach
  8. Group Coach
  9. Therapist Coach

It’s useful to know that, whilst each is distinct, they are not mutually exclusive.

For instance, many coaches are both life coaches and executive coaches – the practice is the same, the difference is the merely the client and the context.  Equally many coaches who work one-to-one will also offer group coaching.  And it would be rare to have a corporate coach who does not work with teams in some way.  

The real issue here is not that you have to choose one to the exclusion of all the others but rather to know which areas appeal to you and which don’t so you can develop your perfect mix.

For me personally, I have always been a life coach and a group coach.  For whatever reason (perhaps because I had my last “job” when I was 28), I have never been attracted to the organisational or executive space.  Yet I know many coaches who have trained with Animas who have made a fabulous living in that space and love the work they do.

So with all that in mind, let’s take a look at each to see what distinguishes them from each other.

1 – The Life Coach

I’ll be honest.  I have never been too keen on the term “life coach”.  It carries too many guru-esque connotations.  I have preferred just plain old coach or existential coach to describe myself.

Nonetheless, life coach is the term used for the broad category of coaches who works independently with individuals on any and all aspects of their life.

Bear in mind that coaches don’t give advice and so the common critique of the life coach (how can they advise someone on how to live their life?) is entirely misplaced.  

Instead, the coach facilitates the client to think through their hopes, goals, challenges, decisions and so on.

What makes a life coach such a uniquely fascinating area of work is the sheer breadth of issues and challenges brought to you to explore.  

One client might bring something as relatively prosaic as wanting to get fit and needing that sense of accountability, whilst another might bring a general sense of ennui – of boredom with life – and be searching for some sense of direction or purpose.

What distinguishes the life coach at a very base level is that they have clients who, almost invariably, pay for their own coaching, get coached outside of the workspace and can bring whatever issue is top of mind.

The life coach is almost always self-employed which means they are developing their own client base, in a similar way to psychotherapists and counsellors.

For me, the life coach requires the most in-depth education, the deepest pool of psychologically-informed knowledge and the widest set of exploratory frameworks.

2 – Executive Coach

The executive coach was probably once the most prolific kind of coach.  This is because in the early days, most coaches were retiring or career-changing executives who would coach in their former network of clients and organisations.  

Over the years coaching has expanded to many more ways of working but the executive coach is still a huge and growing portion of the coaching field.  Partly this is because organisations have the financial resources to pay for coaching, partly it’s because coaching has become so well recognised as an intrinsic part of organisational development, and partly it’s because companies can measure the return on investment of their coaching.

Either way, the executive coach is here to stay.

An executive coach typically works with senior executives often on their careers but also on specific challenges they may be facing or skill-sets they need to build.  

Developmental coaching is often an intrinsic part of executive coaching since executive coaches frequently work with leaders to develop competence around influence, leadership, management, strategic planning, relationship building, presenting and more.

Unlike life coaching, executive coaches tend to bring a specific profession-led expertise to the coaching. They may balance the pure art of non-advisory coaching with a more advisory or mentoring-like approach, if they have the relevant skills and background.  For that reason, most executive coaches will have had a fairly lengthy corporate career.

Executive coaches will work with individual executives but can also engage in team coaching, especially working with board members as a team.

Those who succeed in executive coaching will typically charge fees significantly higher than the average life coach (though not always) and are often paid on a retainer basis as well as by the hour.

In addition to core coaching skills, executive coaches might be expected to know and use corporate tools like 360 degree feedback, psychometric evaluation and other such approaches – however, this isn’t always necessary.

A coach considering working in this field needs to be realistic about their previous corporate experience as well as their access to networks.

That said, there is now a great deal of scope for coaches to work through large associate organisations like Better Up and CoachHub which, once a coach is on their books, can place them with clients in some of the largest organisations in the world.

3 – Corporate/Organisational Coach

This is a fairly loose and broad category and often the coach in this sector will also be in the executive coaching sector too.

The difference is that the corporate coach may be working with all levels of an organisation.  They may be brought in to coach the sales team, an individual high-performer, or someone who’s struggling.  They may coach heads of department on how they work together or manage their line reports or they might coach a small company around developing a vision.

In other words, the context of the organisational space defines this kind of coaching and within that, the world is the coach’s oyster!

Small businesses may often make more use of this kind of coach than a purely executive coach given the flatter structure of most small businesses.

It’s an exciting, rapidly-developing area of coaching and opens the door to coaches without the checkmark of the blue chip organisations on their CV.

Included in this sector could also be schools, charity, NGOs, local government and more.  

Again, the coach is almost certainly self-employed and developing their own client roster which adds to the creative feel of this sector of coaching.

4 – Niche-Specific Coach

The niche-specific coach is not a specifically-designated title but I couldn’t think what else to call it.  I mean by this, the kind of coach who focuses on a specific area and therefore is not a more generalist coach.

Examples of coaches here would be confidence coaches, vision and purpose coaches, relationship coaches, wellness coaches and so on.

There is an almost limitless number of niches a coach could specialise in and the reason they might do so is less about how they work and more because they love that particular topic or because it makes it easier to market themselves.

Niche-specific coaches are more likely to build a wider business offering over the time that might include training, online courses, workshops, retreats, podcasts and thought leadership.

I often think of these coaches as hybrid coaches.  They use the DNA of coaching throughout their practice and the skills of coaching make them extremely effective at drawing out what a clients needs. However, they will often provide more than coaching and may provide specific skills, expertise or frameworks for their clients to follow.

5 – The Internal Coach

So far, all of the coaches we have looked at are likely to be self-employed with an independent practice and have built their own client base.

The internal coach is very different. And it’s a growing field.

The internal coach works for an organisation directly as an employee.

Often their coaching sits alongside another role in the organisation, although there are an increasing number of full-time internal coaches.

An internal coach might, for instance, be the head of marketing for 4 days of the week but have one day a week allocated for internal coaching in which they coach other employees from entirely different parts of the business (to avoid contamination of their management role).

What marks the internal coach out from, say, a manager using coaching as a means of supporting their direct reports, is that the internal coach usually has no direct responsibility for their coachee as a manager.  

This ensures that the coaching is not influenced by their own expectations of the person and they can remain fully in a coaching mindset with only the best interests of their “client” and the wider organisation in mind.

Internal coaching has become a significant part of many public sector organisations within the UK including the government civil service and the NHS.  However, it is also common in consulting organisations like PWC and E&Y as well as many more companies.  With an increasing focus on employee wellbeing, especially post-Covid, coaching is becoming a norm within organisations both through bringing in external coaches and developing internal capacity through internal coaching functions.

We have found that many coaches who don’t relish the idea of developing their own clients have enjoyed finding a coaching role in their existing role or even finding a new role as an internal coach.

6 – Manager-as-Coach

The manager-as-coach is becoming increasingly popular as a way to manage people on a day to day basis.

I would argue that this is less a kind of coach than a kind of use of coaching.

The manager-as-coach continues to be a manager and so, unlike the internal coach, has a clear vested interest in the outcome of the coaching (and management) for their own success as well as their member of staff.  

Nonetheless, the use of coaching principles such as allowing people to come up with their own answers and the use of coaching skills such as open questions, deeper listening and personally-defined goal-setting is encouraging many more command-and-control leaders to adapt their approach to staff development and day-to-day management.

Again, I would not call this person a coach per se but rather say they are using a coaching style.

7 – Team Coach

The team coach is self-explanatory in their focus; they aim to help teams perform more effectively using coaching skills to create a shared vision, bring about better collaboration, surface obstacles and more.

The principles of team coaching remain the same as individual coaching but the way it is done can feel different since the relationship is no longer directly with one client (one thinker!) but with a whole group of people for whom there may be conflict, unexpressed needs, interpersonal relationships and much more.

It is beyond the scope of this article to go into the additional techniques of team coaching but suffice it to say that before developing the skills of team coaching, you would need to first learn and master the skills of coaching in general.

The team coach may be an executive coach, corporate coach or internal coach and so be either employed or self-employed.

8 – Group Coach

The final category, like team coaching, requires an additional set of skills that sit on top of the core skills of coaching but once gained it opens a gateway to many new ways of working.

Group coaching might be used in mastermind groups to facilitate business owners’ thinking together, in life circles in which individuals bring their goals and challenges to explore with a group, in multi-agency groups in which individuals from different departments or organisations need to explore a common theme or topic, and much more.

Again, it’s beyond the scope of this article to cover the additional skills needed but just be aware that this is a rich and fruitful sector to work within as a coach.

9 – Therapist Coach

The final type of coach is one that we added in this revised article.  Over the years, an increasing number of therapists and counsellors have added coaching as a new dimension to their work.  In the opposite direction, more coaches than ever build upon their coaching by training in counselling or psychotherapy.

Indeed, so significant is the movement that a new association formed to provide a voice for this integrative group – the Association of Integrative Coach Therapist Practitioners.  Similarly, the British Association of Counselling and Counselling developed their own scheme for coach therapists.

For anyone who wants to work in both an emotional healing and coaching based capacity, the therapist coach route offers a rich space for work to be done.

So what about you?

You don’t need to know right away which types of coach pathways attract you and indeed it is always possible to combine them or to begin with one and move to another later.

But do you notice what you’re drawn to?

If you decide to train as a coach, you will probably have some sense of what you want to do with it and I hope that this article has at least provide additional clarity on the pathways open to you.

If you would like to explore becoming a coach, why not book a spot at our free Introduction to Transformative Coaching and take your first step.

Author Details
Nick is the founder and CEO of Animas Centre for Coaching and the International Centre for Coaching Supervision. Nick is an existentially oriented coach and supervisor with a passion for the ideas, principles and philosophy that sits behind coaching.
Nick Bolton Avatar
Nick Bolton

Nick is the founder and CEO of Animas Centre for Coaching and the International Centre for Coaching Supervision. Nick is an existentially oriented coach and supervisor with a passion for the ideas, principles and philosophy that sits behind coaching.

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