What coaching is not

Coaching as hot & what it is not. Executive or leadership coaching is hot according to a recent article in Forbes magazine (here), but what coaching is and is not is a topic of debate and confusion among coaches and clients, both. Some of the confusion stems from the number of practitioners who use the term “coach” in their service offerings without any training or study in coaching methods. ThreeJoy practices coaching according to the body of knowledge and ethical guidelines of the International Coaching Federation (ICF), and a consequence of that orientation is that a coach is not a mini-consultant or personal advice giver. Rather, in the ICF framing, a coach comes in service to a resourceful, creative, and whole client by engaging in a process of reflective inquiry to help the client uncover and strengthen the leader within.

Coaching as questions & listening. Practically, what this means is that clients come to coaching looking to the coach for answers or solutions to particular problems they face and the best coaches will not know–or even think they know–what the client should do in response to this or that problem or situation. Instead of answers or solutions, clients get questions, usually open-ended questions–that help sort out the problematic situation–the presenting issue–clearly and at an appropriate level of detail.  Moreover, instead of advice, clients get listened to in a very deep way, in a way that can be powerfully enabling in and of itself.  Feeling felt by the coach’s listening, to use a term used by Dan Siegel (here) and Mark Goulston (here), can be deeply satisfying in a way that builds a client’s confidence to be able to examine and address problems him- or herself.

Coaching as building meta-skill. And at the end of the coaching day, as an engagement progresses, the client finds that what he or she is learning is not solutions to particular problems or situations at work. Yes, the presenting issue gets solved (or resolved), and the other situations that were once so daunting no longer seem much like problems, but the reason this occurs is not so much that the coaching is addressing a series of challenges or issues.  What happens in the coaching process is deeper and more profound–and much longer lasting and effective.  Successful coaching engagements help clients build a certain kind of meta-skill, a skill about about building skill, that the client can use in their work lives, in their lives generally.  This meta-skill is composed of the heightened ability to

  1. notice their own thoughts, feelings, and stories and the thoughts, feelings, and stories of others,
  2. reflect and make sense of those thoughts, feelings, and stories,
  3. move forward based on those reflections,
  4. and learn from the overall experience.  

Of course, these deep skills are not built overnight, but in a certain sense a good coach is working hard to put him- or herself out of business by enabling the client to manage more frequently, effectively, and reliably without the coach’s aid.  For more information about coaching, contact Dave Goldberg at