What is coaching?

Coaching is a form of learning, where a coach supports you to make progress in some way. Progress might include reaching goals, solving problems, finding out what you really want, or creating change. Coaching is normally a series of conversations, which will be useful to you in achieving your objectives. These conversations can be in person, on the phone or over Zoom etc

How does coaching work?

Two really key elements of coaching are awareness and responsibility. An effective coach asks questions, listens, observes and gives you feedback which helps you become aware of your own motivations, drivers, blockers, values, beliefs, circumstances, relationships and networks. Because you can’t tackle something you’re not aware of. Responsibility is key, because you’re a fully formed grown up and I won’t tell you what to do. You’re responsible for your life and actions. But coaching should give you new ways to resolve issues, produce better results and achieve your goals more effectively. In other words I believe:

  • The mind that contains the problem, also contains the solution – often the best one.
  • You are the expert in your own life.
  • I have questions. You have the answers.
  • You can think well for yourself. I don’t need to think for you.
  • Change is possible.

Typical benefits experienced from coaching include:

  • An improved sense of direction and focus
  • Accelerated learning around a distinct topic, e.g. managing people, relationships, influencing others, decision making
  • Increased self-awareness
  • Improved personal effectiveness
  • Increased motivation or sense of personal engagement
  • Increased resourcefulness/resilience, e.g. ability to handle change

What Coaching isn’t

1. Structured Training

Structured training relates to a fixed agenda of learning to ensure you learn a certain amount of information, within a certain time frame. Coaching is more of a process and follows a more flexible format, according to your objectives. Both you and the coach influence the direction and content of sessions. Coaching also places responsibility for learning on the individual and encourages learning to continue after the session, e.g. through an agreed set of actions.

2. Therapy, psychoanalysis, psychotherapy

Some issues are best handled by someone trained to support a specific issue with a specific set of skills, principles and approach. For example, addiction or mental ill health (depression, compulsive disorders etc.) are best supported by someone trained in those specific situations.

Whilst coaching is not therapy, and is not viewed as therapy, it does provide a viable alternative to people who may have previously considered some form of counselling to resolve a situation. For example, milder forms of anxiety, crisis of confidence or self-doubt might all be effectively supported by a qualified and experienced coach. This is because coaching promotes a greater self-awareness, and fuller appreciation of our own situations and circumstances. Sometimes, we know our own answers and simply need support to implement our own solutions.

3. A way of someone else solving your problems for you

Coaching assumes that you are ultimately responsible for the results you are creating. Whilst you may argue that this is not always true, it is normally a more effective idea to operate from. If we acknowledge that we are responsible for something, it follows that we have power and influence over it and can make change.

For example, if you’re not getting the results at work that you want, a coach might encourage you to:

  • Understand that situation more clearly.
  • Develop new ideas or approaches for those situations.
  • Take constructive action that gets you the results you want.

What an effective coach will not do is instruct you to do something specific or go and do it for you. If they did, the coach would be taking responsibility (and so power) away from you. An effective coach aims to empower you by supporting you to act, rather than acting on your behalf.

4.Naval gazing

Coaching is about creating awareness, responsibility and action. You can expect to come away from coaching sessions feeling that movement, change and improvement is possible. And a to do list.

What you can expect from your coach

  • A coach’s motivation is to help you grow and develop and to get the most out of your future.
  • A coach will help you to think for yourself and find your own solutions.
  • A coach helps by listening to you, challenging your thinking and encouraging action.
  • A coach will listen the way you are thinking and hold the mirror up for you so that you can see your own thinking process.
  • A coach will help you to understand and overcome self-limiting beliefs so you should leave every session feeling more capable of mobility.
  • A coach believes that you are the expert in your own life and believes you are creative, resourceful, responsible and accountable for your own thinking and actions.
  • A coach is useful rather than helpful. Together we will focus on finding solutions rather than analysing problems.
  • Coaching will enable you to take your own advice.
  • A coach will keep their commitment to your potential and goals even if your own self-belief at times falters.


All qualified coaches have agreed to a code of ethics which protects the privacy of the people they coach. All the content of our coaching sessions is confidential, except in cases where a client discloses an intention to harm themselves, or others, or criminal activity. This is in line with the Ethical Standards set by the International Coach Federation (ICF), of which I am a member (working towards my Associate Certified Coach accreditation).

Where a third party has requested the coaching, e.g. as part of an organizational sponsored assignment, a coach will agree with you the best way to keep any interested third parties involved or updated.

What your coach will expect from you

Your coach will encourage you to stay committed to the coaching process. That means showing up for sessions, taking your own notes where appropriate, and keeping any agreements you make during sessions.

In addition, your coach needs you to be open to the potential of coaching. That means contributing to conversations honestly and openly. The strength and power of coaching relates directly to the level of openness and trust in this relationship.

Prepare for coaching

It helps to consider your own objectives for coaching before you meet your coach. Asking yourself some of the following questions can help:

  1. What areas or topics might be most useful to work on with a coach? e.g. personal, professional, general learning and development?
  2. What simple goals do you have right now which you’d like to make more progress with, e.g.to make something happen, or achieve something.
  3. What learning and self-development goals do you have? e.g. get better at something or express certain qualities more (or less) often.
  4. Of the factors under your own influence, what might stop your involvement with a coach from being successful? e.g. distractions or a tendency to procrastinate.
  5. What thoughts are you having now about getting started with a coach?

Whilst the intention of the previous questions is simply to encourage your initial thoughts, you may also find that ideas, questions or actions arise from your thinking. That’s great, simply make a note of those and bring them to your first session.

Some content on this page is taken from Julie Starr’s resources for coaches in her book The Coaching Manual. © Julie Starr, The Coaching Manual.