Mountain Stream Coaching in words with M stylized as mountains and S stylized as stream
woman with an exaggerated "I don't know" look
Photo Credit: Robin Higgins on Pixabay

In this short article, I compare three life coaching definitions. The most well-known from the International Coaching Federation, my favorite longer definition, and an alternative short definition. At the end of the article, there are links to a couple of recommended resources for further insight regarding the question.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential. The process of coaching often unlocks previously untapped sources of imagination, productivity and leadership.” The ICF goes on to note that “We all have goals we want to reach, challenges we’re striving to overcome and times when we feel stuck. Partnering with a coach can change your life, setting you on a path to greater personal and professional fulfillment.”

The ICF definition is short and sweet; however, I feel it is a bit lacking with respect to describing what the thought-provoking and creative process is.

A deeper definition that I especially like is from Jenny Rogers in Coaching Skills: The Definitive Guide to Being a Coach (fourth edition, 2016)

Coaching is the art of facilitating another person’s learning, development, well-being, and performance. Coaching raises self-awareness and identifies choices. Through coaching, people are able to find their own solutions, develop their own skills, and change their own attitudes and behaviors. The whole aim of coaching is to close the gap between people’s potential and their current state.

Rogers goes on to define “six foundation principles which help differentiate coaching from other apparently similar disciplines.”

  • Principle 1: The client is resourceful. The client has the resources to resolve his or her problems. The client has not come to be fixed, though there may be others in the client’s world (for instance, a more senior manager paying the bill) who believes that is the purpose of the coaching.
  • Principle 2: The coach’s role is to develop the client’s resourcefulness through skillful questioning, challenge, and support.
  • Principle 3: Coaching addresses the whole person—past, present, and future. Coaches working in the corporate field sometimes see their role as strictly being about work. I believe that this is a mistake.
  • Principle 4: The client sets the agenda.
  • Principle 5: The coach and the client are equals.
  • Principle 6: Coaching is about change and action.

Back to short and sweet, Christian van Nieuwerburgh in An Introduction to Coaching Skills: A Practical Guide (third edition, 2020) offers a consensus definition in three bullet points synthesized from other definitions. Coaching:

  • Is a managed conversation that takes place between two people;
  • Aims to support sustainable change to behaviors or ways of thinking;
  • Focuses on learning and development.

Also See

Over to You

Do you have a particular favorite among life coaching definitions?  Do you have any questions about life coaching? If yes, feel free to schedule a Discovery Call with me.

Note: The book links are Amazon affiliate links that pay a small commission to me upon purchase, at no cost to you.

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