I have been asked this question several times and thought a written explanation might be of value.
Most of us are familiar with sports coaches. Life coaching shares some similarities thought there are significant differences. In sports, the coach works with the athlete to develop his/her skills to improve the chances of winning. The coach may be very skilled at the game, but it is the athlete who competes. The coach uses his/her knowledge to point out areas for improvement and will tell the athlete specific things to do, like ways to swing a golf club. In some ways the coach may be seen as the boss or the expert on the game. Even when an athlete is exceptionally talented and hard-working they will have a coach. The athlete practices and applies what s/he learns from the coach to improve performance in the game.
In life coaching, the client (athlete) is not competing to win at the game of life, but to be the best version of themselves. Of course, being your best may be your version of winning. The coach’s expertise is in coaching itself, though s/he may have other areas of expertise which address what is being coached. The client is the one who is the expert at living his/her life. Because of this, the coach does not tell the client what to do. A good coach will ask questions that will help the client uncover answers or areas to focus on. A good coach is also not in charge, but works as a full partner with the client to achieve the client’s needs. The client still has to do a lot of hard work and apply what is discussed in a coaching session. In fact, most of the growth and gains from coaching take place in between sessions. Just like in sports, having a life coach is not a negative thing but instead, a way to improve. Often coaching is about working with a person where things are going well but could be better. Together, the client and coach will create a plan to get there.
This is a good place to address mentoring, consulting, counseling, and psychiatry/psychology. Mentoring is where a more experienced person shares guidance with a less experienced one – stories and advice are a big part of mentoring. You would hire a consultant with specific expertise on a business issue you have – such as creating a performance metrics program or improving communications for a growing company. Counseling is often about giving advice as well and may focus on negative areas in your life. Working with a psychiatrist or psychologist may be about overcoming things that are broken or that impact you from your childhood or other deep-seated issues.
Coaching may sometimes get at deep-seated issues as well, but mostly those are around the typical “gremlin” of not being good enough. A coach does not offer advice. A good coach will recognize when an issue requires therapy and will recommend that you see someone with that expertise. Finally, unlike speaking with a friend, a coach won’t worry about hurting your feelings but will instead speak truthfully to you. The coach is looking out for your best interests and will support you as you work on your goals. You should expect that the client will do most of the talking in any coaching session.
Coaching can help you answer big questions around things like life purpose or starting your own business. It can also help with specific areas like time management, productivity, or executive presence; or such areas as being a better parent or getting unstuck about some personal goals.
My coach helped me get off the couch and into a 5k and to turn my random writings into a blog. I did all of the running and the writing, but she helped me focus on what I really wanted and kept me accountable to my plans.
Coaching sessions typically happen weekly from 45 – 60 minutes and are usually via phone. The coach will work with the client to focus on what s/he wants from the session and proceed to focus the client on that topic. The coach will hold the client accountable, help the client overcome blocks and see things differently, and help the client develop plans to move forward. A coach who has taken a training and certification program – like me – has the expertise to ask the right questions, help you build a plan, explore resources to help you, and ensure that you are focusing on those things which will have the biggest impact on achieving your goals. Getting from where you are to where you want to be is what a coach does with you.
If this sounds like something you would like to learn more about, I would be happy to schedule a free phone session to discuss coaching and how it could work for you. Just send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you to set up a call.