1 | What Coaching Is & Isn't


1 | What does walking alongside others look like?
2 | Who is in the driver's seat?
The International Coach Federation ( defines coaching as "partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” I often describe coaching as framing conversations through powerful questions to help clients achieve their desired outcomes. Whether you use the International Coach Federation definition of coaching, or one of your own, you’ll notice that there are some common threads that are woven into these definitions. We believe that . .

  1. Coaching is a partnership. The coach and the client are involved in a collaborative process that is totally focused on the person being coached. The coach must create a safe, trusting environment that provides opportunities for fresh perspectives and new ways of being can be explored.
  2. Coaching accelerates what is already underway or about to begin. Coaches have a mindset of curiosity and wonder as they help clients tap into their passions and preferred futures. Through deep listening and powerful questions, the coach helps the other person gain greater clarity about what they really want and what goals and strategy they need to employ to get there.
  3. Coaches maximize potential as they move from what is to what might be. Coaches look for and develop the strengths and giftedness of the person being coached. They guide people toward developing plans to move forward, learn from their results, and make course corrections as needed.
  4. Coaches focus on short-term wins and shifts in attitudes, assumptions, words, and actions. These shifts often include trying on new habits and ways of being, or helping people recognizing limiting beliefs that may be holding them back from experiencing a better, brighter future. There’s a heavy emphasis on what clients will do NEXT so that intentions become reality.
  5. Coaches view the people they coach as the experts, not themselves. Effective coaching draws out the strengths and wisdom of the client. They help clients identify where they can find the resources they need to move forward.

Questions and Reflections
  • How would you describe coaching to a friend or colleague?
  • How would you describe coaching to a potential client?
  • How might you demonstrate coaching to a person rather than try to define it?

3 | How do you get below the surface?
4 | Who is doing most of the work?


While there are tremendous benefits to coaching, the same is true of therapy, consulting, and mentoring. All are of value. Coaches recognize and appreciate the important contributions that therapists, consultants, and mentors make to the ongoing success of those we coach. It’s not unusual that the people you coach will also be using the services of a therapist, consultant, or mentor.

Coaching versus Therapy
Therapy focuses recovery, while coaching is about discovery. Coaching assumes an overall level of health and well-being and therefore is focused discovery rather than recovery. The coaching process happens in an environment of curiosity and wonder as we seek peak performance and new possibilities in those we coach. Therapy emphasizes recovering from the past and bringing the person into a healthy present, while coaching usually starts with a reasonably healthy present and propels people toward discovering and creating a preferred future. Keep in mind that coaching is future-oriented and forward thinking. I often remind new coaches and new clients (the person being coached) that unless there is forward progress, or signs that forward progress is coming, it's not really coaching.

Coaching versus Consulting
There are two questions that come to mind when considering the distinction between coaching and consulting:
  • Who is the recognized expert?
  • Who is responsible for the outcome?

In consulting, the recognized expert is the consultant. Most people work with a consultant because they believe that the consultant's expertise will benefit them or their organization. The consultant helps diagnose problems and may prescribe a set of solutions. In coaching, the recognized expert is the person or team being coached. The coaching perspective is that the client is capable of generating their own solutions.

The role of the coach is to provide a discovery-based framework that honors the expertise of the person being coached. Author and coach, Felix Villanueva, reminds coaches that the biggest contribution they often make with their clients is repeating three simple words: "I don't know." By being open to not knowing,  a coach launches the client forward, as they tap into their own wisdom and web of resources.

When addressing a challenge, consider who is responsible for the outcome. When people hire a consultant, they usually expect to a desired outcome. By following the consultant's advice, their client will achieve their desired outcome. In contrast, a coach empowers the one being coached to do the work and be responsible for the outcome. The client, the person being coached, designs their own plans and action steps. The role of a coach is to create a framework for constructive conversations that lead to new awareness and action, but the coach is NOT responsible for the outcome.

Coaching versus Mentoring
Mentoring is the process of guiding another person along a path that the mentor has already traveled. This guidance occurs when a mentor shares his or her own experiences and learnings. The underlying premise is that the insight and guidance of the mentor can accelerate the learning curve of the one being mentored. There are times when it may seem logical for the coach to play the role of a mentor. One of the things that clients often value from their coach is when the coach shares advice and experience, when asked for and when appropriate. I rarely move into this role unless a client appears to be stuck and may benefit from learning about a new option or approach. In these cases, I may reply by saying something like, “Would you be interested in what other individual organizations have done in similar situations?” When people are new to coaching, I recommend that they refrain from offering advice because it’s so easy, and tempting, to move into advice-giving and “fixing” another person’s problem, which may confuse them about a coach's role,  and or may disempower clients from finding their own solutions.
Helping Clients Paint a Picture
Shaping Thoughts, Words & Actions
Shaping attitudes, actions, approaches & assumptions


Find ways to journey with your client
The easiest way to begin to understand the process of coaching is to envision or actually experience a coaching conversation. You’ll find that almost every coaching session will include a series of five sequential steps:

  1. What would you like to talk about? This question identifies the general theme or topic for conversation. It narrows the scope of what will be discussed during the session and reminds the client that they are in charge.
  2. What would you like to “take away” from today’s session? The goal is not just to have a great conversation, but also to have one that moves people forward in tangible ways. I refer to these as the “deliverables” that help reveal that coaching makes a difference.
  3. Are we still talking about what’s most important to you? It’s easy to get sidetracked and enter into conversations that have little or nothing to do with what the client originally wanted to talk about. Mindful that the client is in charge, coaches periodically check to see if they’re still addressing the client’s most important issues.
  4. What will you say or do this week to act on your intentions? Experienced coaches help clients take action within a certain time period. Without specific timelines, actions items turn into nice-sounding intentions.
  5. Who can support you or hold you accountable? Coaches build accountability into the process. They help clients envision who else might be a resource or source of wisdom.

To wrap up a coaching session, a coach may ask the client to share what was most helpful from the conversation or to summarize action items that come out of the conversation. If the coaching relationship is ongoing, a coach will confirm when the next session will be held.


Building on the five key questions to ask during a coaching conversation, consider sprinkling these statements when appropriate:

1 | Ask the leader to say more. A good place to begin is to simply invite the person to “say more” or suggest “what else could you . . .” These short yet powerful statements are effective tools when you’re not sure what to say next.

2 | Mirror back what you are hearing and observing. It is amazing how helpful the simple act of mirroring can be. For the client, it can be very beneficial to hear what they are saying and see how they are framing the conversation.

3 | Ask the client to rate a situation. Ask questions similar to these: "On a scale of 1-10, how important is this project to you right now?” In a similar vein, ask, “On a scale of 1-10, how passionate or invested are you in this project?” Ask follow-up questions such as, “How invested are your team members in this project?”

4 | Place the person in another role. Ask questions such as, “If you were the leader of this team, what would you do differently?” Or “If you were _____ how do you think you would have responded?"

5 | Invite the leader to describe the vision or BIG picture. When I coach individuals or organizations over an extended period of time, I often ask, “What do you hope to be celebrating by the time this coaching process is done?” I also ask, “What your dream for . . .” or “What do you want to be different by the end of the year or coaching process?" Most individuals and groups move too quickly in naming strategies and action steps without clarifying the WHY and the big WHATS. Coaches help clients name the WHAT, the SO WHAT, and the NOW WHAT in their coaching conversations.

6 | Ask about the plan. A vision is a visual image of a preferred future. For visions to be realized, they plan which also describes people’s personal contributions. Coaches help clients identify what the plan might look like, where it’s kept, how often it’s reviewed, and what’s the next step for acting on the plan.

7 | Ask about their support system. Who can help them with this? Who has done what they’re seeking to do? What resources will you need to pull together to make this happen? Who might serve as a dialogue partner or sounding board for you? These types of questions are needed if people are to move forward, faster.

CHAPTER 1  |  Student  Assignments

Review of Chapter Outcomes
  • To know and can recite ICF’s definition for coaching.
  • To be able to articulate the difference between coaching, consulting, mentoring and counseling.
  • To name, and demonstrate using the basic coaching agreement (the 5 questions) to guide coaching conversations.
  • To decide where you'll keep a log of key coaching concepts, practices and powerful questions.

Assignment  1 | Memorize ICF's definition of coaching (listed below)
"Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

Assignment 2 | Memorize the 5 questions that make up the basic coaching agreement (listed below)
  • What would you like to talk about?
  • What would you like to take away from our session?
  • Are we still talking about what matters most to you?
  • What will you say or do (this week) to act on your intentions?
  • Who can support you in your next steps? Who will hold you accountable?


               Insights, Ideas & Applications from Past Students

"I have to quit trying to fix people's problems and  trust the magic of the 5 question basic agreement."

"I need to let go of my agenda and tune into the hopes, dreams, and possibilities of those I'm coaching."