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COACHING FAQS

Frequently asked questions:

1. What is professional coaching?
ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment. Coaches honor the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole. The coaching process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their potential.


2. How is coaching distinct from other service professions?
Professional coaching focuses on setting goals, creating outcomes and managing personal change. Sometimes it’s helpful to understand coaching by distinguishing it from other personal or organizational support professions.

Therapy: Therapy deals with healing pain, dysfunction and conflict within an individual or in relationships. The focus is often on resolving difficulties arising from the past that hamper an individual's emotional functioning in the present, improving overall psychological functioning, and dealing with the present in more emotionally healthy ways. Coaching, on the other hand, supports personal and professional growth based on self-initiated change in pursuit of specific actionable outcomes. These outcomes are linked to personal or professional success. Coaching is future focused. While positive feelings/emotions may be a natural outcome of coaching, the primary focus is on creating actionable strategies for achieving specific goals in one's work or personal life. The emphases in a coaching relationship are on action, accountability, and follow through. 

Consulting: Individuals or organizations retain consultants for their expertise. While consulting approaches vary widely, the assumption is the consultant will diagnose problems and prescribe and, sometimes, implement solutions. With coaching, the assumption is that individuals or teams are capable of generating their own solutions, with the coach supplying supportive, discovery-based approaches and frameworks. 

Mentoring: A mentor is an expert who provides wisdom and guidance based on his or her own experience. Mentoring may include advising, counselling and coaching. The coaching process does not include advising or counselling, and focuses instead on individuals or groups setting and reaching their own objectives. 

Training: Training programs are based on objectives set out by the trainer or instructor. Though objectives are clarified in the coaching process, they are set by the individual or team being coached, with guidance provided by the coach. Training also assumes a linear learning path that coincides with an established curriculum. Coaching is less linear without a set curriculum. 

Athletic Development: Though sports metaphors are often used, professional coaching is different from sports coaching. The athletic coach is often seen as an expert who guides and directs the behaviour of individuals or teams based on his or her greater experience and knowledge. Professional coaches possess these qualities, but their experience and knowledge of the individual or team determines the direction. Additionally, professional coaching, unlike athletic development, does not focus on behaviours that are being executed poorly or incorrectly. Instead, the focus is on identifying opportunity for development based on individual strengths and capabilities.

3. What are some typical reasons someone might work with a coach?
An individual or team might choose to work with a coach for many reasons, including but not limited to the following:

  • Something urgent, compelling or exciting is at stake (a challenge, stretch goal or opportunity) 
  • A gap exists in knowledge, skills, confidence or resources
  • A desire to accelerate results
  • A lack of clarity with choices to be made
  • Success has started to become problematic
  • Work and life are out of balance, creating unwanted consequences
  • Core strengths need to be identified, along with how best to leverage them

4. How is coaching delivered? What does the process look like?
Coaching typically begins with a personal interview (either face-to-face or by teleconference call) to assess the individual's or business’ current opportunities and challenges, define the scope of the relationship, identify priorities for action and establish specific desired outcomes. Subsequent coaching sessions may be conducted in person or over the telephone, with each session lasting a previously established length of time. Between scheduled coaching sessions, the individual may be asked to complete specific actions that support the achievement of one's personally prioritized goals. The coach may provide additional resources in the form of relevant articles, checklists, assessments or models to support the individual's or business’ thinking and actions. The duration of the coaching relationship varies depending on needs and preferences.


5. How long does a coach work with an individual?
The length of a coaching partnership varies depending on the individuals or team's needs and preferences. For certain types of focused coaching, three to six months of working may work. For other types of coaching, people may find it beneficial to work with a coach for a longer period. Factors that may impact the length of time include: the types of goals, the ways individuals or teams prefer to work, the frequency of coaching meetings and financial resources available to support coaching.

6. Within the partnership, what are the roles of the coach and the Individual? The coach:

  • Provides objective assessment and observations that foster the individual's or team’s self-awareness and awareness of others
  • Listens closely to fully understand the individual's or team's circumstances
  • Acts as a sounding board in exploring possibilities and implementing thoughtful planning and decision making
  • Champions opportunities and potential, encouraging stretch and challenge commensurate with personal strengths and aspirations
  • Fosters shifts in thinking that reveal fresh perspectives
  • Challenges blind spots to illuminate new possibilities and support the creation of alternative scenarios
  • Maintains professional boundaries in the coaching relationship, including confidentiality, and adheres to the coaching profession's code of ethics.

The individual:

  • Creates the coaching agenda based on personally meaningful coaching goals
  • Uses assessment and observations to enhance self-awareness and awareness of others
  • Envisions personal and/or organizational success
  • Assumes full responsibility for personal decisions and actions
  • Utilizes the coaching process to promote possibility thinking and fresh perspectives
  • Takes courageous action in alignment with personal goals and aspirations
  • Engages big-picture thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Takes the tools, concepts, models and principles provided by the coach and engages in effective forward actions

7. How can the success of the coaching process be measured?
Measurement may be thought of in two distinct ways: external indicators of performance and internal indicators of success. Ideally, both are incorporated.

  • Examples of external measures include achievement of coaching goals established at the outset of the coaching relationship, increased income/revenue, obtaining a promotion, performance feedback that is obtained from a sample of the individual's constituents (e.g., direct reports, colleagues, customers, boss, the manager him/herself), personal and/or business performance data (e.g., productivity, efficiency measures). The external measures selected should be things the individual is already measuring and has some ability to directly influence..

Examples of internal measures include self-scoring/self-validating assessments that can be administered initially and at regular intervals in the coaching process, changes in the individual's self-awareness and awareness of others, shifts in thinking that create more effective  actions, and shifts in one's emotional state that inspire confidence.