What is transformational coaching?

transformational coaching is done by a woman with long hair together with a coworker

210 coaching clients, most of whom had experienced transformational coaching -- which we will continue to define in a moment -- were surveyed about their experiences after the coaching by the International Coach Federation. 

The results were notable:

  • 62.4% smarter goal-setting
  • 60.5% more balanced life
  • 57.1% lower stress levels
  • 52.4% more self-confidence
  • 39.5% enhanced communication skills
  • 35.7% project completion
  • 43.3% improvement in quality of work

There have been similar successes from performance coaching, and previously we’ve unveiled 18 statistics documenting the power of coaching.

It can be tricky to fully quantify transformational coaching, in part because of its very nature, which is a whole-scale changing of being, as opposed to many coaching efforts, which focus predominantly on doing, i.e. tasks and processes. 

Let’s dive more into definitions and contexts behind transformational coaching to better understand the desired output. 

Table of contents
What is transformational coaching?
An example of transformational coaching: Sam
Would transformational coaching be akin to therapy, then?
What is transformational life coaching?
What is the transformational coaching “equation?”
How would someone enter the field of transformational coaching?
How could you find a transformational coach?

What is transformational coaching?

Transformational coaching is ultimately focused on enabling self-actualization. This type of coaching dives deep into an individual’s psyche, focusing on who that person is and desires to become. Transformational coaching is an ontological -- relating to the branch of metaphysics that deals with states of being -- approach because it is about ‘being’ rather than ‘doing.’

The counter to transformational coaching is often deemed “transactional coaching.” That seems like a diminutive or insulting term, but it’s not -- transactional coaching is largely what people think of when they consider the coaching profession, and it does work. It just works differently. 

Transactional coaching rests on the premise that a person will uncover what they need to and move forward in meaningful ways based on their existing way of being. It’s a goal-attainment process rooted in your current life. Transformational coaching, though, rests on the premise that an expanded or shifted way of being—and higher-order thoughts, perceptions, and energies —is necessary to uncover what is needed.

One model of transformational coaching is four-pronged:

  • Psychological: A focus beliefs, values, expectations, assumptions and psychological patterns that guide how clients show up in life or the workplace.
  • Humanistic: Rooted in the idea that clients have the resources they need to make changes.
  • Integrative: This enables coaches to find their own unique, psychologically-grounded way of working with clients; this flexibility on the coaching side makes quantification of success a bit harder.
  • Holistic: Coaches learn to pay attention to all aspects of a client’s experience – the cognitive, affective, somatic, relational and behavioural dimensions.

Another approach to transformational coaching focuses on these elements of the coach:

  • Be focused
  • Dive below the surface
  • Get to the essence of the problem
  • Create spaces of shadow and light so the client can contrast approaches directly
  • Illuminate one’s “inner operating system,” i.e. beliefs, values, and decision-making approaches

Some transformational coaches, like Elizabeth Sabet, have argued that ultimately transformational coaching is about the development of self-awareness. Self-awareness has deep ties to professional success, with former Walmart.com CEO Carter Cast noting this in research for a book he worked on:

The most striking piece of research I found is that people who have an inaccurate self-assessment, who don’t have high self-awareness, derail. They get fired or demoted six times more frequently than people that have an accurate self-conception. It’s not about thinking that you’re great at everything. People who understand what they are good at can move around their weaknesses or the fact that they have a vulnerability. People who think they’re good at too many things or have a difficult time facing the music end up failing six times more frequently than those with accurate self-conception.

Cast has actually designed notable workplace “characters” who lack self-awareness, including “Captain Fantastic,” a Type-A go-getter who doesn’t think he needs any help, and “The Whirling Dervish,” who is always super busy. None of the “characters” end up being successful in the end, largely because they lack self-awareness. If transformational coaching can be seen as a journey to self-awareness and higher concept of being, it can help improve careers as well.

An example of transformational coaching: Sam

As detailed in noted transformational coach Leon VanderPol’s A Shift In Being, one of his clients was a young man named Sam. Sam had a perceived tendency towards contemplation and overthinking, which affected his ability to make decisions in a timely manner. This lack of decisiveness puzzled him greatly, and was taking a toll on his life. His objectives for coaching were to stop being so self-critical and to develop a much more positive attitude towards life, and be able to be more decisive.

Sam’s stated goal for having a coach was: 

“I want to explore how to be more assertive at work, especially with my boss. He drains me. I feel I should be able to stand up to him and speak my truth. I would like to explore strategies or techniques I can use to develop my confidence in his presence and to be more assertive with him.”

Inherently, that is transactional coaching. A transactional coach would grab at the words “strategies or techniques,” and guide Sam to end goals and process points around dealing with his boss. 

A transformational coaching approach looks at Sam’s quandary differently. A transformational coach realizes that Sam needs to learn how to fundamentally shift his entire sense of self into a more enlightened state. Sessions begin with a transactional objective but evolve into a deeper conversation around a host of limiting beliefs. 

Eventually, in his work with VanderPol, Sam got to statements such as:

“I am good enough. I love selflessly. I express who I truly am.”

This is a fundamental shift in being and self that forms the bedrock of transformational coaching. Instead of strategies to deal with a specific problem such as relationship to boss, the strategies focused on a whole-scale shift in being. 

This example with Sam is indicative of how Instructional Coaching has defined transformational coaching in their research. They see it “The Three Bs,” i.e.:

  • Behaviors: What are client and coach doing? What do the behaviors say about them and their ultimate goals/who they are?
  • Beliefs: Ultimately, all our behaviors emerge from beliefs. (Think of people arguing on Facebook, as one basic example.) Some beliefs serve you; some beliefs notably hold you back. A core tenet of transformational coaching is removing those latter beliefs, as Sam does by realizing he’s not solving the immediate boss problem -- he’s actually solving deep-seated issues in his self-belief model.
  • Way of being: How do you show up for yourself and others? This is ultimately your way of being. Sense of identity can fluctuate and change, and that’s a core principle of transformational coaching. 

Would transformational coaching be akin to therapy, then?

The above process with Sam sounds similar to therapy. So is transformational coaching similar to therapy, then?

There are elements that overlap, but in reality transformational coaching is often more rigorous, as transformational coach Rosie Kuhn has noted in Psychology Today. Why? Because in the transformational coaching context, the client has to do a good deal of work on adjusting and changing their perceptions and being. In therapy, by contrast, the client is given tools and talks through life situations, but much of the “work” is being done by the therapist -- i.e. diagnosing, treating. Transformational coaching requires more work on each side. 

As Kuhn notes:

“Therapists empower people to heal the emotional wounds that seem to cause the fear-based interpretations and actions that have been developed by the client. Therapists work with clients who are stuck in fear-based thinking, interpreting, and acting, and help them heal the underlying emotional wounds that keep them there. Coaches work with clients who are alert to and eager about moving into more of an essence-based way of being in the world. They may have already done some therapy to heal their emotional wounds and bring them to a place where they’re ready to choose how they choose to be in the world, rather than being stuck in action/reaction mode. To a larger degree, coaching clients have often developed the resilience to meet their fears and move past them, so they can more effortlessly access and manifest a fearless or essence-based reality.”

Also consider: for years, coaches were taught not to take on people with addictions, often because that was viewed as the purview/domain of therapists. In recent years, however, there’s been a shift towards thinking about addiction as a cognitive and behavioral disorder, and transformational coaching can treat that by changing belief sets and finding blockers around compulsive behaviors. 

In that way, you see the overlap between transformational coaching and therapy, but you can also see how the fundamental issue (in this case, addiction) needs to be redefined for the coaching model to work better.

What is transformational life coaching?

That’s a form of transformational coaching more focused on personal objectives, i.e. daily life, than professional objectives, i.e. success at work and changing the very nature of your work existence. 

There is some discussion around transformational coaching vs. life coaching, but in reality many of those discussions are semantic in nature. Transformational coaching is designed to impact your life at a deep level, which is inherently a form of life coaching. 

We can assign the term “transformational life coaching” to it, or just call it “life coaching,” but the goals are similar: understand your inner operating system -- what beliefs power you, how you make decisions, and what holds you back -- and improve your life as a result of adjustments therein. 

What is the transformational coaching “equation?”

It’s been defined as “Understand + Connect = Thrive,” which is similar in theory to some of the approaches described at the top of this post. In this case, it means:

  • Deeply understand your client
  • Connect with them on a more personal level and discuss needs, goals, belief structure, ways of thinking
  • That combination allows the relationship to thrive

Transformational coaches will often speak of “coaching the person in front of you,” which is another way of saying no cookie-cutter, applied-to-all approaches in transformational coaching. It’s about the journey of one person from a state of being to a different state of being.

How would someone enter the field of transformational coaching?

Predominantly, people enter through self-study, distance learning, or certification courses, of which there are increasing amounts, including Udemy and the Center for Transformational Coaching. Universal Coach Institute, Transformational Presence, and Transformation Academy also offer such courses. 

There is no overall regulatory body for transformational coaching, so the approach to each of these certifications may vary widely. The overall goal, of course, is improving the life and work of end clients through a shift in being, beyond a simple shift in doing


If coaching that is based on a strong scientifically proven foundation resonates with you, you can become a certified F4S Coach and People Leader through our virtual training sessions.

How could you find a transformational coach?

Most people find coaches through referral of someone else that has worked with a transformational coach -- in that way, the process of acquiring such a coach is similar to therapy or medicine. 

You can also engage with Fingerprint for Successown smart AI, Coach Marlee. Marlee has a variety of different coaching programs that help guide people to greater personal and professional success -- and greater success within their teams. Some of the current programs include:

  • Goal Catcher: This focuses on shifting your focus from obstacles and deadlines, to the big lofty goals that can drastically improve your life. You will have increased motivation and energy to work towards your goals by the end of the program.
  • Big Picture Thinker: Always in the details? That’s fine -- we know the devil resides there. But someone on a team needs to think longer-term and bigger picture, and this coaching module focuses on the development of big picture thinking.
  • Trust your gut feel: We live in a very data-driven time now, and sometimes people want to chase data when making decisions, because it seems that’s what the most successful companies in the world are doing. Data is important, absolutely, but leaders also need to trust their gut when making big decisions, and this module focuses on those approaches.
  • Reflection and patience: While we have argued in the past that patience can kill a startup, we also believe deeply in analytical thinking as a core trait for many roles. Sometimes people need to showcase thoughtful response instead of rapid reaction, and understanding the difference is crucial to the scale of your success.

New transformational coaching programs arrive with Coach Marlee weekly, focusing on different strengths and weaknesses of leaders, and how to best position them for success by changing their focus, mindset, belief set, and ultimately professional being. 

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