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Coaching: What It Really Is, and 15 Pillars That Make It Effective

What is coaching, exactly? “Coaching” has become almost a buzz word in today’s world, and you’ve definitely seen it if you’ve spent any time on the Internet. And while the idea of coaching someone may seem appealing, you may wonder what, exactly, it is, and how it works. Here, we outline what coaching is, and we share 15 pillars that make it effective.

The Definition of Coaching

Briefly, coaching is a process during which the coach supports a client on her process of self-discovery and self-awareness, so she can become the best possible version of herself, and therefore reach a specific goal more efficiently.

According to the international Coach Federation, a global, member-based organization dedicated to advancing the coaching profession, coaching is, “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.”

It’s a client-centered, action-oriented, forward-focused process designed to support an individual as he or she defines, strives toward, and reaches certain specific benchmarks over a set period of time. (It’s different from counseling, which is often past-focused and directed by the counselor. For more information on how coaching differs from counseling, read my blog post, 6 Differences Between Coaching and Counseling, here.)

One type of coaching is holistic coaching, which takes into account how all the aspects of a client’s life (health, relationships, finances, career, etc.) interact together and affect one another—and strives to bring all those aspects into balance and harmony.

The History of Coaching

Athletic coaching has always had a place in this world: higher-level athletes have historically sought coaches to get help honing their skills.

In the 1980s, organizational development—the concept of executives honing their leadership and interactional skills through coaching from experts—gave rise to the field of coaching.

Over time, it evolved into executive coaching, which was designed to help professionals reach their career goals, whether that meant finding new jobs, getting promoted, or starting new companies.

Executive coaching, then, evolved into life coaching, a more holistic approach which created and offered a structure by which individuals could look within themselves and identify patterns that stopped them from reaching their goals … and then take consistent action to make measurable progress toward his goals.

The Pillars and Cornerstones of Coaching

Here are the key pillars of coaching—the structure that guides coaches to best support their clients.


It’s not the role of coaches to provide their clients with direction; it’s a coach’s role to support clients in identifying their own course of direction.

A coach strives to support his or her clients as they undergo a process of self-discovery; he or she doesn’t judge a client’s thoughts, beliefs, or actions.

Coaches know their clients already have all the answers they seek—it’s a coach’s role to assist a client in finding those answers.

Although the topics may sometimes feel “uncomfortable” or “intrusive,” coaches must rely on their intuition and ask the important questions that will take their clients farther along the path of self-discovery.

The path to self-discovery is also a path of self-awareness, so the coach must ask questions that aid in self-awareness.

Coaching is about inspiring clients to take action—to feel a sense of control over their lives. This can happen only when clients take responsibility for their thoughts and actions.

Because coaching is about supporting clients to take action, confidence is key. Coaching should inspire confidence as well as action.

It’s not a coach’s job to “fix” a client; coaching clients have the abilities to find the answers they seek.

In coaching, the client is the leader. Although topics may shift, it’s important for clients to feel heard on different levels.

Because every element of a client’s life affects the other elements (for example, finances affect health, and health affects relationships), a coach must take into account each and every element of a client’s life.

Effective coaching defines measurable actions clients can take to get the results they want to get–and it empowers the client to take those actions.

Coaches should do only 20 percent of the talking; most of the talking should be done by the client as he or she works through self-discovery and self-awareness.

Rather than looking to events of the past, coaching looks toward goals and visions of the future. It’s about taking action to achieve future goals, NOT about healing from past traumas.

Rather than focusing on feelings or emotions, coaching focuses on taking specific actions to achieve desired goals.

In conclusion …

Coaching can be an extremely powerful modality for helping clients to take action that leads to the achievement of a specific goal or vision. That is, when it’s done right. To ensure your coaching is as effective as possible, keep in mind the pillars outlined above. When you do, your clients will get the results they want, and you’ll change the world.

If you’re considering becoming a certified coach, we’d love to invite you to learn more by visiting the Radiant Coaches Academy.

Source: Horizons Life Coaching, Paul Hemphill, February 2012



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