So, what is coaching, anyway?

“If I really want to improve my situation, I can work on the one thing over which I have control - myself.” -- Stephen Covey





When I mention to some people that I do coaching, I see a glazing over of the eyes and sense a whiff of “oh that’s nice” and a quick change of subject. I get it. Until I researched the topic myself, I actually thought that life coaching was a bunch of fancy “hoo-hoo”, based solely on spirituality, was nothing but fluff, just holding hands and singing kumbaya and asking a bunch of innocent questions, or just shallow interactions of doling out simple advice and asking how something makes you feel. So, believe me when I say I completely understand when it’s not taken seriously by those who have not yet experienced it.


And if that’s all it was, just talking about your feelings in some random fashion, I would not be interested. While I consider myself deeply spiritual and a pretty open book, I don’t like sitting around talking about my feelings at every turn. (But do not confuse this with not being in touch with my feelings. I rely on them for many things in my life - major decisions as well as human interactions in general. But they’re my feelings and do not require external validation (whoa - there’s a subject for future discussions!). I know that spiritual coaches do some amazing work with healing, energies and mediation, but the kind of coaches I’m talking about concentrate on practical, tangible results.


First, let’s talk about what life coaching isn’t - it isn’t therapy, it doesn’t deal with clinical depression, anxiety, addictions or other serious mental issues and is never, ever, a substitution for therapy - you will immediately get referred to a medical professional. Life coaches do not delve into the past or why you are the way you are - again, that’s therapy. It’s also not an environment where you are told how to correct anything. If I know how to change or fix something based on my prior experience or success, I don’t share it - greatly because that’s what helped ME in MY SITUATION, not yours, and I guarantee it’s different.


Another way to look at it - therapy is historical, coaching is the now.


Coaching is not mentoring. A mentor shares advice and responds to direct questions from the mentee.


Coaching is not consulting. A consultant is a professional who provides expert advice in a particular industry and gives you a road map with answers.


Coaching is not judgmental. Your choices aren’t wrong, and you will never be told you’re wrong. And I promise that you sure don’t want me to start singing.


So, what is life coaching? Or executive coaching or professional coaching….?


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.”


It’s a safe zone. It’s supportive. It’s confidential. It’s judgement-free. It’s without any outside bias or other self-interest of the coach. Unlike your friends or loved ones, we don’t have our own agendas or sensitive concerns, or opinions on what you should be doing. We are advocates. It’s about self-improvement in the now, for the future. It’s about accountability. It’s honest and deep. And it can get messy. It’s a far cry from the “hoo-hoo” with which it is stereotypically saddled.


And it’s a process by which you learn to reach your goals by having your thinking and limiting beliefs questioned - and guiding you to develop a new mindset.




It’s calling you on your BS (of which you are probably unaware) and pushing you to realizations and masterful “a-ha moments" that can and will forever change your outlook and possibly your life.


And about limiting beliefs…I’m sure you may have heard this term before, as it’s been used in TedTalks and motivational speeches - and simply put, they are our personal beliefs that constrain us in some way. We all have them. They inhibit us from changing our opinions, thoughts or actions. They’re often about our self-identity and abilities, or about outside forces over which we have no control. Things we think we cannot or mustn’t do. Things we are or are not. Or how we think others will or will not react or think or behave.


They are formed through our own personal direct experiences, education, fears and failures. And they are so normalized for us and ingrained in our psyche that we can’t see past them without assistance.


And I’m not saying that your coach will never give feedback, but it’s never unsolicited and only provided sporadically and after receiving your permission, and usually in relation to something that was previously discussed, and more in terms of exploration in the name of discovery. You see, we coaches are trained and skilled in the art of listening, not only to what you say, but also how you say it, as well as what you don’t say. We recognize that we are working with human beings with multiple layers and can see each one. So, if you go to a coach expecting to be told how to fix a problem, you don’t need a coach, you need a business consultant.


Something else I have found with life coaches in that they are perceived to have so-called perfect lives, traveling to exotic places, working 5 hours a week …and while that sounds great, and also while some actually do try to convey that message, powerful coaches are professionals working in the trenches with their clients, getting personal, and clocking in at least sometimes endless hours a week, either with clients, doing research, building new training programs, or even obtaining more training themselves.

I have also heard concern with the lack of regulation and standards by which life coaches operate. I promise you, any coach worth their weight has the same feelings. While I am certified and am working within the ICF certification and training system, I do see others who are just winging it. No, I don’t have a post-graduate degree (not yet, anyway!), what I and quite a few of us do have is decades of first-hand experience, knowledge and true talent and desire to help others.


So, why should you hire a life coach?


First of all, you should know that you’re not broke or need fixing. You hire a life coach when there is something specific you want to work on.

  • You need to develop your leadership skills and increase your effectiveness in a competitive environment

  • Your confidence is not at a level you’d like

  • You have big goals but lack clarity of vision (you know where you want to go, but don’t know how to get there)

  • You’re making or are ready for a transition, and you’re unclear which path to take

  • You feel unfulfilled in purpose or maybe you want help thinking differently

  • You’re not looking for perfection, but you’re looking for improvement and a new way of approaching ideas that will help you today and moving forward.


You should view coaching as an investment in yourself and your future, the same as any education. And according to the ICF, 85% of clients who experienced a coaching relationship reported being satisfied with the experience.


It’s also very important that, before hiring a coach, you should ensure you’re ready to do the work to achieve whatever change is important to you. While part of the coach’s job it to hold you accountable to your commitments, they’re not going to make you do the work. There’s no report card, there’s no punishment, or threat of firings. They won’t tell you what to focus on. And they won’t nag you into making changes. You own and are responsible for the work. But that also makes you the owner of your successes.


I hope that helps some. Not everyone may need a coach, and some keep one on annual retainer. But if you have something you want to get done, and you’re ready to take the next step, whatever that may be for you, and you desire a professional partnership that won’t sabotage your efforts or try to mislead you or change your mind, a coach may be in your future.

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© 2020 by KAREN K. BANNISTER INTERNATIONAL LLC.