1  |  What  Coaching  Is  &  Isn't

Coaching is . .
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.” Coaching frames conversations through powerful questions that 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.
  1. Coaching is a partnership. Coaches often talk about walking alongside their clients. They serve as dialogue partners who bring out God’s best in the people they coach as they evoke new possibilities and new ways of thinking, being, and doing. This is done in a safe, sacred environment.
  2. Coaching accelerates the process of transformation. 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. Transformation often shows up through shifts in attitudes, assumptions, words, and actions. Shifts may include experimenting with new habits, addressing limiting beliefs that may be holding, or being willing to try new approaches that lead to a better, brighter future. 
  3. Coaches maximize a client's 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. Coaching focuses on the end result as well as the here and now.  Coaches help clients appreciate the journey as well as the final destination. The journey includes taking  faithful next steps that are aligned with the clients desired outcomes, Coaches help clients discover new perspectives and learnings as they review their recent results.
  5. Coaches view their clients as being full of potential, insights, and wisdom. Coaching draws out the strengths and wisdom of the client. Coaches help clients identify and connect with  the resources they need to move forward. In coaching, the client is the expert. Coaches demonstrate their expertise through demonstrating the effective use of coaching principles and practices.
The coach and the client are involved in a collaborative process that is totally focused on the person being coached. Coaches create a safe, trusting environments that provide opportunities for fresh perspectives and new ways of being can be explored.  Coaches walk alongside their clients, seeking to unlock their potential and increase their impact.
5 Practices
According to Tim Roehl and Steve Ogne, authors of TransforMissional Coaching: Empowering Leaders in a Changing Ministry World, a coach:
  • C – Comes alongside
  • O – Observes carefully.
  • A – Asks questions wisely.
  • C – Communicates options and resources.
  • – Holds accountable (and cares for the heart).
Therapists, consultants, and mentors contribute to the ongoing success of those we coach. Many  clients use the services of therapists, consultants, and mentors in addition to having a coach. As a coach, one needs to know how these roles differ from each other and also compliment each other, particularly  in ways that can accelerate a client's progress toward their preferred futures.

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.  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.
Therapists, consultants, and mentors contribute to the ongoing success of those we coach. Many  clients use the services of therapists, consultants, and mentors in addition to having a coach. As a coach, one needs to know how these roles differ from each other and also compliment each other, particularly  in ways that can accelerate a client's progress toward their preferred futures.

Coaching versus Therapy

  • Therapy focuses recovery whereas coaching is about discovery. 
  • Therapy focuses on the past whereas coaching is present and future oriented. 
  • The coaching process happens in an environment of curiosity and wonder. 
  • Therapy emphasizes recovering from the past and bringing the person into a healthy present, while coaching propels people toward discovering and creating a preferred future. 
  • Coaching is future-oriented and forward thinking.
  • Unless there's change, or signs of 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 and 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. 
  • Coaching assume 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.
5 Questions

Practice using the 5 key questions in a coaching conversation

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.

When wrapping up a coaching session, consider asking clients,  "What did you find most helpful from today's conversation?"  Also invite clients to summarize action items that come out of the conversation and then confirm if and when the next session will be held.
7 Strategies
Building on the five key questions coaches ask during coaching conversations, try using the following questions and statements in future coaching sessions:

  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.
Action Steps

ACTION STEPS:  Start using the 5 key questions in a coaching conversation

  1. Memorize ICF's  definition  of  coaching to a client - "Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”
  2. Understand the differences between coaching, consulting, mentoring, and  counseling. Then explain the the uniqueness and benefits of a coaching approach. Understand the importance of coaching "staying in their lane" and avoiding playing alternative helping roles.
  3. Memorize the 5 questions that guide most coaching coaching conversations.

  • 1 - What would you like to talk about?
  • 2 - What would you like to take away from our session?
  • 3 - Are we still talking about what matters most to you?
  • 4 - What are your next steps?
  • 5 - Who will hold you accountable?  Who can support you?