What is Coaching? An Introduction for Non-Coaches

What is coaching

What is Coaching? An Introduction for Non-Coaches

If you’re new to coaching you might be asking yourself, “what is coaching, exactly?”

It’s a common question and so, in this article, I’m setting out to answer this clearly for you.

Coaching has become an integral part of both personal and professional growth for many individuals around the world. 

As a discipline, coaching helps people discover and unlock their potential, achieve their goals, and ultimately lead more fulfilling lives. 

In this post, we will delve into the art of coaching, offering an introduction for those unfamiliar with it and outlining key concepts, techniques, and strategies that are essential for any budding coach to know.

What is Coaching? A Definition

Coaching is a collaborative, goal-oriented process that supports individuals in identifying, pursuing, and achieving their personal and professional objectives. 

Through powerful questioning, active listening, and empathy, coaches help their clients clarify their values, strengths, and areas for growth and devise strategies for overcoming challenges and achieving their goals.

The Difference Between Coaching, Mentoring, Consulting and Therapy

Coaching is often confused with other helping professions, such as mentoring, consulting, and therapy. 

While there are similarities, it’s essential to understand the differences:

  • Mentoring typically involves a more experienced individual providing guidance and support to a less experienced person in a specific field or context.
  • Consulting involves offering expert advice or solutions to specific problems or challenges.
  • Therapy focuses on healing psychological or emotional issues and improving mental well-being.

In contrast, coaching is a partnership between the coach and client, where the coach empowers the client to identify and work towards their own goals through self-discovery, reflection, and action.

Types of coaching

Coaching encompasses a wide range of specialities, including but not limited to:

  • Personal or life coaching
  • Executive coaching
  • Career coaching
  • Health and wellness coaching
  • Relationship coaching
  • Leadership coaching

Personal or Life Coaching: Personal or life coaching focuses on helping clients improve their overall quality of life, achieve personal goals, and navigate various life challenges. This type of coaching often addresses areas such as work-life balance, self-improvement, decision-making, and personal growth. Life coaches work with clients to clarify their values, identify their strengths, and create actionable plans to attain their desired outcomes.

Executive Coaching: Executive coaching is targeted at individuals in leadership positions, such as CEOs, directors, and senior managers. The goal of executive coaching is to enhance leadership skills, improve professional performance, and facilitate personal growth in a business context. Executive coaches work with clients on issues such as strategic thinking, communication, team building, conflict resolution, and time management, helping them to become more effective and successful leaders.

Career Coaching: Career coaching focuses on helping clients navigate their professional lives, achieve career goals, and make successful job transitions. Career coaches support clients in areas such as career exploration, job search strategies, CV and cover letter development, interview preparation, and networking. They may also help clients address work-related challenges, such as improving job performance, managing workplace conflicts, or developing new skills.

Health and Wellness Coaching: Health and wellness coaching aims to support clients in adopting and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits to improve their physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Health and wellness coaches work with clients to set realistic health goals, develop personalised action plans, and provide guidance and motivation throughout the change process. This type of coaching may address topics such as nutrition, exercise, stress management, and work-life balance.

Relationship Coaching: Relationship coaching focuses on helping clients develop and maintain healthy, fulfilling relationships in various areas of their lives, including romantic partnerships, friendships, family dynamics, and professional relationships. Relationship coaches assist clients in building effective communication skills, resolving conflicts, enhancing emotional intelligence, and fostering deep connections with others.

Leadership Coaching: Leadership coaching, similar to executive coaching, is designed to support individuals in leadership roles or those aspiring to become leaders. The focus of leadership coaching is on developing essential leadership skills, such as strategic thinking, decision-making, emotional intelligence, and team management. Leadership coaches work with clients to enhance their self-awareness, identify their leadership style, and address any areas for growth or improvement, ultimately helping them to become more effective and inspiring leaders.

This is just a selection of coaching fields – there are many more including parent coaching, youth coaching, mindfulness coaching, entrepreneurship coaching and so much more. You get to decide where you want to focus your coaching skills.

Essential characteristics of effective coaches

Effective coaches possess a unique blend of skills, knowledge, and personal qualities. Some essential characteristics include:

  • Empathy and compassion
  • Active listening
  • Curiosity and interest
  • Strong intuition
  • Presence
  • Adaptability and flexibility
  • Patience and resilience
  • A commitment to ongoing learning and development

Empathy and compassion are essential characteristics for coaches, as they enable them to genuinely understand and connect with their clients on a deeper level. These traits allow coaches to create a safe and supportive environment in which clients feel heard, respected, and valued, facilitating trust and open communication within the coaching relationship.

Active listening is a crucial skill for coaches, as it involves fully focusing on the client, paying attention to both verbal and non-verbal cues, and providing appropriate responses. By actively listening, coaches can better comprehend their clients’ thoughts, feelings, and experiences, enabling them to offer more targeted and effective guidance.

Curiosity and interest are important qualities for coaches, as they help to maintain an open and non-judgmental mindset. By staying curious and genuinely interested in their clients’ perspectives, coaches can encourage clients to explore their own thoughts, feelings, and experiences more deeply, leading to increased self-awareness and personal growth.

Strong intuition can be beneficial for coaches in understanding and connecting with their clients on a more profound level. Intuition allows coaches to pick up on subtle cues, patterns, and underlying issues that may not be immediately apparent, helping them to guide clients more effectively and efficiently.

Presence refers to a coach’s ability to be fully engaged and attentive during coaching sessions, maintaining an unwavering focus on the client and the coaching process. By being fully present, coaches can create a powerful environment for growth and transformation, ensuring that their clients receive the full benefit of their support and expertise.

Adaptability and flexibility are valuable qualities for coaches, as they enable them to adjust their approach and techniques in response to the client’s evolving needs, goals, and circumstances. Coaches who are adaptable and flexible can more effectively support their clients in navigating challenges and embracing new opportunities for growth.

Patience and resilience are essential characteristics for coaches, as they help to maintain a positive and supportive attitude even when faced with setbacks, obstacles, or slow progress. By demonstrating patience and resilience, coaches can model these qualities for their clients, fostering a growth mindset and encouraging perseverance in the pursuit of their goals.

A commitment to ongoing learning and development is crucial for coaches, as it ensures that they continually refine and expand their knowledge, skills, and abilities. By staying up-to-date with the latest research, best practices, and industry trends, coaches can enhance their effectiveness and provide the highest quality support to their clients.

What is coaching

Establishing a Coaching Relationship

Building trust and rapport

The foundation of any successful coaching relationship is trust and rapport. 

To establish this, coaches must:

  • Demonstrate genuine interest in their clients’ well-being
  • Be authentic, open, and non-judgmental
  • Create a safe and supportive environment for the client to express themselves

Setting expectations and goals

At the outset of the coaching relationship, it’s essential to set clear expectations and establish mutually agreed-upon goals. 

This includes discussing:

  • The coaching process and duration
  • The roles and responsibilities of both the coach and the client
  • How progress will be measured and evaluated

Establishing confidentiality and boundaries

Confidentiality is a critical aspect of the coaching relationship. 

Coaches must ensure that all information shared by the client is kept private, with exceptions only when legally or ethically required. 

Additionally, coaches must maintain professional boundaries, avoiding any dual relationships or conflicts of interest that could undermine the coaching relationship.

Coaching Models and Frameworks

GROW model

The GROW model is a widely-used coaching framework that stands for:

  • Goal: Establishing the client’s specific, achievable goal(s)
  • Reality: Exploring the client’s current situation and the factors influencing it
  • Options: Identifying potential strategies and resources for reaching the goal(s)
  • Will: Encouraging the client to commit to action and establish accountability

SMART goal-setting

SMART is an acronym used to guide the goal-setting process, ensuring that goals are:

  • Specific: Clearly defined and focused
  • Measurable: Quantifiable and able to be assessed
  • Achievable: Realistic and attainable given the client’s resources and constraints
  • Relevant: Aligned with the client’s values and overall objectives
  • Time-bound: Accompanied by a deadline or timeframe for completion

Solution-focused coaching

Solution-focused coaching is an approach that emphasises identifying and leveraging clients’ strengths and resources to overcome challenges and achieve their goals. 

This approach encourages clients to focus on what they can do, rather than dwelling on problems or limitations.

Strengths-based coaching

Strengths-based coaching is an approach that helps clients recognise and build upon their unique strengths, talents, and abilities. 

This can lead to increased confidence, motivation, and resilience as clients use their strengths to overcome challenges and achieve their goals.

Coaching psychology

Coaching psychology is the application of psychological principles and research to the coaching process. 

It provides coaches with evidence-based techniques and strategies to enhance their effectiveness and support their clients’ growth and development. 

By integrating coaching psychology, coaches can better understand their clients’ needs, motivations, and behaviours, and tailor their coaching interventions accordingly. 

Several psychological schools of thought can be incorporated into the section on coaching psychology to provide a more comprehensive understanding of how various psychological theories can inform and enhance coaching practice.

Some of these approaches include:

  • Cognitive-Behavioural Psychology: This approach focuses on the interplay between thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Cognitive-behavioural techniques can be used in coaching to help clients identify and challenge unhelpful thought patterns, develop more adaptive coping strategies, and improve their overall well-being.
  • Humanistic Psychology: Humanistic psychology emphasises personal growth, self-actualization, and the innate potential of each individual. In coaching, humanistic principles can be applied by fostering a supportive and non-judgmental environment, promoting client autonomy, and encouraging self-reflection and self-discovery.
  • Positive Psychology: Positive psychology is the scientific study of human flourishing, focusing on strengths, virtues, and factors that contribute to happiness and well-being. Coaches can incorporate positive psychology principles by helping clients identify their strengths, cultivate gratitude, set meaningful goals, and develop resilience.
  • Psychodynamic Psychology: Psychodynamic psychology explores the influence of unconscious processes and early life experiences on an individual’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Although not typically a primary focus in coaching, some psychodynamic concepts may be relevant when addressing deep-seated beliefs, patterns, or emotional issues that may be affecting a client’s progress.
  • Existential Psychology: Existential psychology deals with questions related to human existence, such as meaning, purpose, and authenticity. Coaches can integrate existential themes by encouraging clients to explore their values, passions, and life purpose, and by supporting them in pursuing goals that are aligned with their authentic selves.

Incorporating these psychological schools of thought into coaching psychology can provide coaches with a diverse range of evidence-based tools, techniques, and insights to support their clients in achieving their goals and realising their full potential.

What is coaching

Communication Skills for Coaches

Active listening and empathy

Active listening is a critical skill for coaches, as it helps to create a deep understanding of the client’s thoughts, feelings, and experiences. By attentively and non-judgmentally listening to their clients, coaches demonstrate empathy, validating the client’s emotions and fostering trust and rapport.

Powerful questioning

Powerful questioning is a coaching technique that involves asking open-ended, thought-provoking questions that encourage clients to reflect, explore, and gain new insights. Effective questioning helps clients to identify their values, beliefs, strengths, and challenges, and to generate ideas and solutions for achieving their goals.

Giving and receiving feedback

Providing constructive feedback is essential for a coach to help clients recognize areas for growth and improvement. Coaches should be skilled in giving feedback that is specific, balanced, and focused on the client’s development. Additionally, coaches should be open to receiving feedback from their clients, using it as an opportunity for learning and refining their coaching practice.

Managing difficult conversations

Coaches may encounter difficult conversations, such as addressing sensitive issues, confronting resistance, or managing strong emotions. It’s crucial for coaches to approach these conversations with empathy, respect, and assertiveness, while maintaining a focus on the client’s goals and well-being.

Coaching Techniques and Tools

Visualisation and goal-setting exercises

Visualisation and goal-setting exercises can help clients to clarify their goals, identify their motivation, and create a vivid mental image of their desired outcomes. This can boost their self-confidence and commitment to achieving their goals.

Motivational interviewing

Motivational interviewing is a coaching technique that supports clients in overcoming ambivalence or resistance to change. By exploring and resolving clients’ doubts and concerns, coaches can help them to build motivation and commitment to their goals.

Time and priority management tools

Effective time and priority management is often essential for clients to achieve their goals. Coaches can offer tools and strategies to help clients set priorities, allocate their time efficiently, and manage potential distractions or barriers.

Emotional intelligence and mindfulness exercises

Emotional intelligence and mindfulness exercises can help clients to develop greater self-awareness, self-regulation, and resilience. By practising these skills, clients can better understand and manage their emotions, improve their relationships, and more effectively navigate challenges and setbacks.

Measuring Progress and Success

Defining coaching success

Coaching success is often measured by the client’s progress towards their goals, as well as their personal growth, increased self-awareness, and overall satisfaction with the coaching process. 

It’s essential for coaches and clients to agree on the criteria for success at the outset of the coaching relationship, ensuring that both parties have a clear understanding of the desired outcomes.

Evaluating client progress

Regularly evaluating client progress is crucial for maintaining momentum and ensuring that the coaching process remains focused and effective. 

Coaches can use various methods to assess progress, such as:

  • Regular check-ins and progress reviews
  • Assessing goal attainment using the SMART criteria
  • Gathering feedback from the client and other relevant stakeholders

Continuous improvement and adapting to change

The coaching process should be flexible and adaptive, allowing for adjustments and modifications as needed. 

Coaches should be open to revisiting and revising goals, strategies, and techniques in response to the client’s evolving needs, challenges, and opportunities.

Celebrating achievements and acknowledging setbacks

Acknowledging and celebrating the client’s achievements, both large and small, is essential for maintaining motivation and reinforcing the client’s sense of accomplishment. 

Equally important is addressing setbacks and failures, helping the client to learn from these experiences and build resilience for future challenges.

Ethical Considerations in Coaching

The International Coach Federation (ICF) Code of Ethics

The ICF Code of Ethics provides a set of guidelines and principles for coaches to follow in order to maintain high professional standards and ethical conduct. 

These guidelines address areas such as confidentiality, professional boundaries, conflicts of interest, and the coach’s commitment to ongoing professional development.

Maintaining professional boundaries

Coaches must maintain appropriate professional boundaries with their clients, avoiding any dual relationships or situations that could compromise the coaching relationship or the client’s well-being.

Confidentiality and privacy concerns

Coaches must respect their clients’ privacy and ensure that all information shared within the coaching relationship is kept confidential, except when legally or ethically required to disclose such information.

Addressing potential conflicts of interest

Coaches should be vigilant in identifying and addressing any potential conflicts of interest that may arise during the coaching relationship, ensuring that their primary focus remains on the client’s best interests.

Building a Successful Coaching Practice

Identifying your coaching niche

Determining your coaching niche involves identifying the specific areas or client populations in which you have expertise, passion, and a unique value proposition. 

Focusing on a niche can help you to differentiate yourself in the market and attract clients who are seeking specialised support.

Developing a personal coaching philosophy

Your personal coaching philosophy is the set of beliefs, values, and principles that guide your coaching practice. 

By articulating and embodying your coaching philosophy, you can create a strong foundation for your coaching practice and build credibility and trust with your clients.

Continuous learning and professional development

Ongoing learning and professional development are essential for maintaining and enhancing your coaching skills, knowledge, and effectiveness. 

This can include attending workshops, conferences, and webinars, pursuing additional certifications, and engaging in reflective practice and peer supervision.

Networking and marketing your coaching services

Building a successful coaching practice requires effective networking and marketing strategies. These may include:

  • Creating a professional website and online presence
  • Engaging with potential clients and referral sources through social media, online forums, and professional associations
  • Attending networking events, conferences, and workshops
  • Developing promotional materials, such as brochures, business cards, and testimonials


The art of coaching is a rewarding and fulfilling profession that enables coaches to make a meaningful impact on the lives of their clients. 

As a beginner coach, embarking on this journey of learning and growth is an exciting opportunity to develop your skills, knowledge, and expertise, while also supporting others in achieving their goals and unlocking their full potential.

Author Details
Justin is a professional writer and researcher and explores topics of coaching, coach training and personal development.
Justin Pickford

Justin is a professional writer and researcher and explores topics of coaching, coach training and personal development.

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