What is coaching? Understanding its definition, types, and benefits

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Imagine having a skilled guide unlock your untapped potential. Think Serena Williams perfecting her serve, or Steve Jobs honing strategies to enhance his visionary skills. 

These days coaching is not reserved for elite performers. It's a game-changer for anyone aiming to thrive both personally and in their professional life. 

In fact, a study by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) showed 80% of people who receive coaching report increased self-confidence. And more than 70% enjoyed improved professional growth and performance.1

Table of contents
What is coaching? Here's our best definition.
What's the purpose and ultimate aim of coaching?
Exploring the different types of coaching
What's the difference between coaching vs mentoring?
The GROW model
What are the benefits of coaching?
What are the different coaching styles? Choosing the right approach
How to start a life coaching business
The ethics of coaching: Ensuring integrity and accountability
What's the future of coaching?
Key takeaways
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Frequently asked questions

What is coaching? Here's our best definition.

Coaching is a collaborative process that helps individuals unlock their potential, set goals, and develop strategies to achieve personal and professional growth.

Michelle Duval, founder of F4S, is a trailblazer in innovative learning approaches. She played a pivotal role in establishing professional coaching in Australia back in 1997. 

Michelle believes the benefits of coaching go well beyond problem-solving. 

‘Coaching gives professionals the time and guidance they need to pause and reflect on their performance'.

In the words of coaching expert Sir John Whitmore,

‘Coaching is about enabling individuals to make conscious decisions and empowering them to become leaders in their own lives'.

Coaching takes many forms and has many associated concepts. These include consulting, training, mentoring, and therapy. 

But, the overarching goal of a coaching relationship is to help a person move, grow, learn, and create, be that professionally, personally, spiritually, or emotionally.

Now a thriving industry, coaching boasts a rich history. Its roots lie in the ancient practice of mentorship. Think philosophers like Socrates guiding students or military leaders training their troops. 

These early relationships laid the groundwork for the supportive, developmental aspects of coaching.

The term ‘coach’ appears to have emerged in the 19th century as a description for tutors who ‘carried’ their students through exams. Kind of like a horse-drawn carriage transporting passengers. 

More formal performance coaching programs didn’t begin until the 1970s when pioneers like Whitmore established it as a formal practice. Today, the field continues to evolve. 

The advent of AI has revolutionized coaching. It has introduced innovative tools and AI coaching platforms such as F4S, that provide personalized insights and guidance. This integration of technology has expanded the accessibility and effectiveness of coaching.

‘It is enabling us to make coaching accessible to anyone, anywhere. It’s truly democratizing personalized support and growth,’ - Michelle Duval.

What's the purpose and ultimate aim of coaching?

Coaching, in its diverse forms, serves as a purposeful tool. Coaching methods are designed to guide individuals toward professional, personal, spiritual, or emotional growth and success. 

Whether unlocking personal potential, optimizing health, or enhancing leadership capabilities, coaching can empower individuals to navigate challenges and achieve their aspirations.

‘Everyone needs a coach. It doesn't matter whether you're a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast or a bridge player,’ - Bill Gates in a 2013 TED Talk

Gates believes the need for a coach and the benefits of coaching are important no matter what the goal. And that a coach should be a specialist with a deep knowledge of their field who can extract and nurture the latent potential within.

Exploring the different types of coaching

The coaching industry is ever-evolving and expanding. An IPEC report showed that each month 1.5 million searches are made by individuals and companies seeking coaches for life and business.2

The most common coaching approaches are:

Business Coaching 

Business coaches use specific techniques to empower entrepreneurs and business owners. Business coaches guide strategy, and growth, empower leads to overcome challenges, and achieve specific goals. The goal is to propel a business forward. 

According to the Human Capital Institute, companies that offer a robust workplace coaching culture report higher revenue than 51% of their industry peer group.4

Life Coaching 

Life coaching focuses on personal development. It aims to clarify goals, overcome obstacles and enhance well-being through a holistic approach. With the #LifeCoaching gaining more than 44 million views on TikTok, it is fair to say the industry is booming. 

The 2009 ICF Global Coaching Study, report showed that 80% of coaching clients enjoyed an enhancement in their self-esteem or self-confidence as a result of coaching.1

Executive Coaching ­

In uncertain times, executive coaches play a crucial role in making strategic decisions. Tailored to top-tier leaders, executive coaching delves into strategic thinking, decision-making, and organizational dynamics. It offers added support for leaders to navigate uncertainties and ensure informed decision-making.

Leadership Coaching 

Centered on honing leadership skills, leadership coaches empower individuals to inspire and guide their teams. Leadership coaching supports executives to develop emotional intelligence, effective communication skills, and improved organizational culture. It offers strategies and opportunities for leaders to level up their current practices.

Managerial Coaching 

There is evidence to show that a coaching leadership style is among the best for managers. While employees yearn for coaching to unlock their full potential, according to a Gallup poll only about 20% of managers have the skills to help with this.5 

In fact, studies suggest most managers aren’t very good at coaching their direct reports.6

Many managers prefer to simply be ‘the boss’, which is usually conceptualized as a deadline-setter, train-mover, and motivator (ideally). 

But, a managerial coach, which former Facebook/Google executive Kim Scott has likened to a ‘thought partner’, would be more of a one-on-one relationship where ideas and goals are volleyed back and forth, as opposed to one side taking orders from the other.

Managerial coaching empowers leaders to guide team members. It fosters employee development and cultivates a strong coaching culture within an organization, propelling continuous improvement and leadership development.

Career and Performance Coaching ­­

Whether you're a recent college graduate, a professional seeking advancement, or navigating a career transition, a career coach is invaluable. Career coaching provides support to set career goals and achieve career development. The goal of this coaching process is to optimize performance for sustained success in achieving professional goals.

Health and Wellness Coaching 

 Targets physical and mental well-being. Health and wellness coaches go beyond fitness, delving into mental health and lifestyle. Wellness coaches promote healthier lifestyle choices and offer personalized strategies to achieve and sustain them. 

In a 3-month study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, wellness coaching was found to enhance various aspects of life quality, including reductions in depressive symptoms and perceived stress levels. Improvements were also noted in physical, social, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual functioning.3

Relationship Coaching 

Focused on interpersonal skills, relationship coaching uses specific coaching techniques to help individuals learn communication and conflict resolution skills. Relationship coaching also addresses challenges in personal and professional connections. 

Statistics show that more than 70% of people have benefitted from coaching by a relationship coach.1

What's the difference between coaching vs mentoring?

Coaching and mentoring are both forms of guidance and support to help individuals achieve peak performance, in life and business. Despite being similar, each serves a distinct purpose and involves different dynamics. 

Imagine, for example, that you want to run a marathon. A coach will create a training plan to help you develop the stamina to reach the finish line. 

A mentor, perhaps a marathon runner themself, would share tips and provide encouragement. But they wouldn’t prescribe a specific training regimen.

Coaching is laser-focused on achieving a specific goal within a set timeframe. It is a collaborative process during which a coach facilitates self-discovery and unlocks a client's potential. A coach approach uses structured methods. Coaches ask probing questions, engage in difficult conversations, explore possibilities, and create actionable plans to achieve outcomes.

Example: Cathy is an aspiring marketing executive. She seeks coaching for professional growth and to enhance her leadership skills. Her coach engages in a series of sessions, asking questions and guiding her through self-reflection. Together, they create a personalized development plan. This focuses on specific goals such as improving communication or decision-making. The coach empowers Cathy to take ownership of her growth by providing tools and strategies.

Mentoring offers guidance across various aspects of your life or career. The more experienced individual (the mentor) shares knowledge and expertise with a less experienced person (the mentee). Mentoring involves long-term guidance on career advancement, professional development, and personal growth. 

Unlike coaching, mentoring often includes the sharing of personal experiences. It sometimes provides direct guidance based on the mentor's journey. But the onus for growth remains on the mentee.

Example: Josh, a junior software developer, benefits from mentorship provided by a senior colleague, Tony. Tony offers guidance on navigating the complexities of coding practices and project management. He also provides feedback and shares insights into industry trends. Tony’s mentorship involves direct advice and draws from personal experiences to help Mark develop within the field.

A common misconception is that coaching and mentoring are synonymous with therapy or counseling. While both involve supporting individuals in achieving growth, coaching focuses on the present and future, rather than the past. It is not a treatment for mental health conditions. 

The GROW model

You may encounter discussions about coaching approaches, such as the GROW model, on social media platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok. Sir John Whitmore developed this well-established framework. It remains popular with coaches for structuring coaching conversations and goal-setting processes.

G - Goal: Start by defining a clear, achievable goal for the person you're coaching. What do they want to achieve?

R - Reality: Explore the current situation. What are their strengths and weaknesses related to the goal? What obstacles might they face?

O - Options: Brainstorm different approaches to reach the goal. Encourage creativity and consider various possibilities.

W - Way Forward: Determine the specific action steps the person will take. Set deadlines and discuss any support they might need.

But TikTok’s short videos limit deep dives into your unique goals. While TikTok allows easy access to coaching, some influencers lack coaching proficiency and qualifications, and their coaching framework only provides generic advice that may not work for you. 

It is wise to seek out professional coaching bodies for more qualified and tailored coaching programs.

What are the benefits of coaching?

The positive impacts of coaching cannot be overstated. Effective coaching goes far beyond delivering advice. Its benefits are enormous for professional development and personal development. 

Coaching professionals support clients to cultivate a deep understanding of who they are, what drives them, and what they desire. An effective coach should be a supportive guide who holds up a mirror, reflecting back a person’s strengths and weaknesses with honesty and compassion.

Coaching is unlocking a person's potential to maximize their performance. It's helping them to learn rather than telling them what to do,’ says Sir John Whitmore, co-author of Coaching for Performance.

Coaching offers a range of benefits to individuals from all walks of life. Here are some of the areas where coaching has a positive impact.

Improved self-awareness

A core benefit of coaching is the development of self-awareness. Through coaching, individuals gain a deeper understanding of their strengths, weaknesses, and motivations

This newfound self-awareness empowers them to make better decisions in life and work. A study conducted by Oxford Brookes University showed coaching could significantly improve self-awareness. This includes aspects like self-reflection, accepting oneself and others, and taking initiative.7

Enhanced goal-setting and accountability

Effective coaches support clients to set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound). Then work with clients to develop a plan to achieve them. 

This process provides clients with a roadmap for success and keeps them accountable. 70% of coaching clients reported achieving their goals after working with a coach.1

Increased self-confidence, motivation, and self-esteem

Coaching helps individuals develop a more positive self-image and boost confidence. Through encouragement, support, and guidance, coaches support clients to overcome self-doubt and limiting beliefs. The 2009 ICF report showed that individuals who undergo coaching see an 80% increase in self-confidence.1

Increased productivity

Coaching has been shown to have a significant impact on productivity within organizations. 

A study published in Public Personnel Management found that organizations offering training saw a 22% increase in productivity. However, when they combined training with coaching, the productivity increase jumped to a significant 88%.8

What are the different coaching styles? Choosing the right approach

Embarking on a coaching journey involves exploring the various coaching styles available to find an approach that resonates best with you. 

Several coachingc techniques dominate the market, each offering a unique perspective on personal and professional development.

Some of the most recognized coaching styles include:

Meta Coaching and Neuro-Semantics

Using advanced neuroscience, cognitive behavioral change, and self-actualization psychologies, the aim of this approach is to bring about profound personal growth and change. 

This coaching model supports clients to identify and transform limiting beliefs and cognitive patterns.

AI coaching

This incorporates artificial intelligence to provide a tailored coaching experience. At F4S, AI Coach Marlee uses motivational traits to understand user behavior, preferences, and challenges. Once you answer questions on what motivates you, you'll receive your personalized report.

Marlee uses these insights to tailor online coaching programs to individual needs. Coaching sessions can be at any time as you're not limited to the availability of a (human) coach. 

an animation showing how F4S works for individuals

Online and digital coaching

This incorporates services such as CoachHub, which uses AI technology to match individuals with qualified coaches online. This approach enhances accessibility, making traditional human coaching sessions available to a wider audience via video calls.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP)

This style of coaching focuses on the connection between language, behavior, and neurological patterns. Coaches using NLP techniques aim to reprogram negative thought patterns and behaviors. This approach is particularly effective in overcoming limiting beliefs and promoting personal development.

Instructional coaching

This style of coaching adopts a more directive approach with coaches providing explicit guidance, strategies, and feedback to achieve specific goals. This coaching style is often applied in educational settings to support teachers in improving their instructional practices and to enhance student learning outcomes.

Transformational coaching

Transformational coaching aims to create profound shifts in mindset and behavior. This is done by focusing on long-term personal and professional transformation. Coaches in this style work with clients to identify and overcome deep-seated issues, facilitating holistic growth and self-discovery.

Somatic coaching

This approach recognizes the mind-body connection, emphasizing the role of physical sensations in personal growth. Coaches help individuals explore and understand their bodily experiences to address emotional and psychological challenges, promoting overall well-being.

How to start a life coaching business

Starting a life coaching business involves a strategic approach to making a meaningful impact. Begin by defining your niche and target audience, ensuring a clear focus for your coaching services.

Whatever your focus, entering the field of coaching requires training and a keen understanding of soft skills. Successful life coaches focus on active listening and reflection to build rapport and identify barriers. 

Empathy and compassion are crucial for creating a safe space where clients feel comfortable exploring vulnerabilities and uncertainties. Clear and effective communication and the ability to ask relevant and insightful questions are essential for guiding clients toward clarity and solutions. 

Interpersonal skills, including trust-building and patience, contribute to a supportive coaching environment.

Networking within your community and industry builds valuable connections. Consider collaborating with other life coaches and professionals to expand your reach.

Many successful coaches integrate F4S into their sessions to complement and enhance the coaching experience. Coaches use F4S  as a tool to provide clients with valuable resources and support outside regular sessions.

As you embark on your life coaching journey, refine your skills through ongoing education and stay informed about industry trends. By establishing a strong foundation and embracing innovative apps like F4S, you can create a thriving life coaching business that nurtures positive transformation in the lives of clients.

For more in-depth insights into the skills required, read about how to become a life coach. 

Find out what motivates you and then ask our AI Coach, Marlee, whether you're suited to a career as a life coach.

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The ethics of coaching: Ensuring integrity and accountability

Ethics in coaching is paramount, ensuring trust and accountability. Industry-wide, coaching adheres to ethical guidelines emphasizing confidentiality, respect, and client autonomy. 

Coaches must maintain professional boundaries, avoid conflicts of interest, and prioritize the well-being of clients.

Clients, in turn, should be open, honest, and committed to their personal development journey. By upholding ethical standards, coaches and clients build a foundation of trust. This enables a constructive and transformative coaching experience.

At F4S, our ethical commitments adhere to these principles, emphasizing transparency and integrity. We maintain strict ethical guidelines. This includes client confidentiality, respectful interactions, and creating safe and reliable coaching programs.

What's the future of coaching?

The future of coaching is being guided by technology, with AI coaching emerging as a significant trend. Rather than replacing human coaches, AI complements their work, offering data-driven insights to personalize coaching. 

AI coaching also opens avenues for individuals who couldn't afford traditional coaching previously.

As technology evolves, we will see a blend of human expertise and technological innovation. Think more enhanced data collection and even VR simulations to enhance coaching effectiveness. It will also make coaching more accessible and impactful than ever.

Key takeaways

Coaching is a vital tool for personal and professional development. It is a collaborative process, going beyond advice-giving. 

A coach helps individuals unlock their potential, fostering self-discovery and empowering individuals to take ownership of their growth. It helps a person move, grow, learn, and create more than they previously were able to.

There are many coaching styles, from transformational coaching for long-term change to NLP coaching for reframing limiting beliefs. Finding the right style of coaching is vital.

As technology evolves, AI is playing a significant role. Platforms such as F4S use AI technology to create an intelligent coaching companion that offers personalized insights, tailored advice, recommendations, and encouragement 24/7.

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Frequently asked questions

Is coaching right for me?

Yes. Coaching is beneficial for anyone who is looking to improve their life. If you are feeling stuck, or unfulfilled, or if you simply want to reach your full potential, then coaching is a good option.

How long does coaching typically last?

The length of a coaching engagement varies depending on an individual's goals and needs. Some people may only need a few coaching sessions to achieve their goals, while others may benefit from working with a coach for several months or even a year. 

Session lengths also vary, F4S coaching sessions take as little as 5-15 minutes and can be done anywhere and anytime.

What are some of the challenges of coaching?

One of the challenges of coaching is finding the right coach. It is important to find a coach that is a good fit for your personality and someone who has experience in the area you are looking for help with. 

Another challenge is staying committed to the coaching process. Coaching is challenging at times, and it is important to be willing to put in the work to see results.

Show References
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  1. International Coaching Federation, 2009, ICF global coaching client study - Executive Summary, International Coaching Federation, https://researchportal.coachingfederation.org/Document/Pdf/abstract_190
  2. IPEC Coaching, What is Coaching?, IPEC.com, https://www.ipeccoaching.com/hubfs/What%20is%20Coaching%20-%20iPEC%20Coach%20Training.pdf
  3. Clark M, Bradley K, Jenkins S, Riley B, Olsen K, Vickers Douglas K, 2014, The Effectiveness of Wellness Coaching for Improving Quality of Life, Mayo Clinic,  https://www.mayoclinicproceedings.org/article/S0025-6196(14)00438-8/abstract
  4. International Coach Federation and Human Capital Institute, 2015 Building a Coaching Culture for Increased Employee Engagement, International Coach Federation, https://coachingfederation.org/research/building-a-coaching-culture  
  5. Robison J, 2020, Give Up Bossing, Take Up Coaching: You’ll Like the Results, Gallup, https://www.gallup.com/workplace/282647/give-bossing-coaching-results.aspx
  6. Milner J and Milner T, 2018, Most Managers Don’t KNow How to Coach. But They Can Learn, Harvard Business Review, https://hbr.org/2018/08/most-managers-dont-know-how-to-coach-people-but-they-can-learn)
  7. Sutton A and Crobach C, 2022 Improving self-awareness and engagement through group coaching, International Journal of Evidence Based Coaching and Mentoring, https://radar.brookes.ac.uk/radar/file/b5a63362-06de-4a8d-81de-dc81a208ad81/1/20_1_4.pdf
  8. Olivero G, Bane D, Kopelman R, 1997, Executive Coaching as a Transfer of Training Tools: Effects on Productivity in a Public Agency, Public Personnel Management, 1https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ556437

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