Clarity about Coaching

Even though coaching has been around for many years (the first reference to coaching in the academic press was back in 1937), there still seems to be a lot of confusion involving “what is a coach” and “what does a coach do.” I thought I’d take some time to clarify that and to offer you some pointers about selecting a coach, if that’s something you think would help you reach your goals.

There are many definitions of coaching (and we’re not talking sports coaching here!). I use a simple definition: facilitating positive change in a client’s life. I think of it as helping you get from where you are to where you want to be more quickly and powerfully. I work with clients to help them think new thoughts, which (literally) creates new wiring, which generates new habits, which leads to new/better/long-lasting results.

When you work with a coach, you create a consistent level of accountability and stretch in your life that normally does not exist in any other relationship you have. The coaching relationship is also based on your agenda and your thinking (though some coaches act more like consultants or experts or mentors).

My particular method of coaching uses the latest findings in neuro-science to help me work with the way your brain works–and every person’s brain is completely unique and different.

In addition to the generic definition of coaching, there are many types of coaches. They fall into three primary categories and many sub-categories or niches. The main three are:

  • Life coaching
  • Business coaching
  • Executive coaching (sometimes called Workplace Coaching)

Most people have heard of life coaches. A life coach works with a private individual (client) on one to three personal goals that can cover a wide range from health to money to relationships to career to spirituality to you name it. The client typically hires and pays for the coach himself. A life coaching relationship usually lasts 3 to 6 months, depending on the goals and the client. Some clients extend the engagement several months and a few clients may even renew year after year (this is not the norm).

A business coach works with private (small) business owners or entrepreneurs. For business owners, it’s sometimes hard to separate the business from the owner’s life, so the focus here is usually a blend of business and personal goals. Look for a business coach with a variety of tools to help you as a business owner address your biggest issues: sales, marketing, hiring, operations, planning, customer service, finances… The client may hire the coach herself and pay for him through the business or a client may work with the coach through another arrangement, like a business advisory board (similar to my work with The Alternative Board). A business coaching relationship may last anywhere from 1 to 2 years or longer, depending on the nature of the goals and the stage of the business.

An executive coach works with high level executives, leaders, and high potential employees within a public corporation. The coach is usually brought in by a leader or by the human resources department as part of a targeted or leadership development initiative. The goals primarily focus on the business with some time devoted to the executive’s personal life (I suggest two business goals and one personal goal). With an executive coaching engagement, the executives usually select from a group of coaches and the decision tends to be driven by rapport and what the coach brings to the relationship as far as business experience. The company hiring the coach or coaches usually pays for the service.

Interestingly, executive coaching is sometimes thought of as punitive. This is because it used to be used mainly as an intervention to “save” a “failing” executive. This is a notion of the past. Today, executive coaching is used primarily as a proactive development tool for the best and brightest.

[Note: As indicated earlier, an executive coach may sometimes be called a workplace coach, but in my opinion, these are two slightly different coaches. An executive coach tends to work with the most senior leaders in the organization on goals that tie to the broader strategic initiatives of the company, while a workplace coach tends to work throughout an organization with employees at many levels and on more individual goals–think professional development, skills, career….]

What to Look for in a Coach

The International Coach Federation, a global watchdog group that has set standards and competencies for professional coaches, offers some basic things to look for when thinking about working with a coach:

If you have additional questions about choosing or working with a coach for workplace, business, or personal reasons, contact me at 516.216.4233 or by email at

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