What is coaching?

by | Jan 9, 2023 | Coaching

The coaching industry is an established and sizeable industry worth $2bn annually, but what exactly is coaching? Most people have some idea of coaching based on their own experience. However, the words “coach” and “coaching” get applied to many topics. I’m sure you’ve seen advertisements for a variety of coaches, from marketing coaches to weight loss coaches to money coaches. Are they all really coaching, or are they using the word coach to mean they’re an expert who will teach you a new way of doing something?

The International Coaching Federation (n.d.) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Moen and Federici (2012) define coaching as a conversation technique that facilitates coached individuals’ learning and development and increases their resource base. Coaching is a process in which coaches use specific methods and skills to help coached individuals, also called coachees, achieve their goals.

To better understand coaching, here are seven ideas to help you define “coaching.”

Man and woman talking

1.  Coaching is a collaborative relationship in which the coach provides support to empower the coached individual to succeed. The coaching process involves providing help through facilitation (Beattie et al., 2014).

2.  The emphasis is on the coached individual during the coaching process. The coaching relationship centers on the coachee’s needs and goals, NOT the coach’s. The coach’s job is not to be an expert but rather a facilitator of the individual’s success.

3.  It is a process of expanding the perspective of the coached individual. The coach’s goal is to increase the coached individual’s self-awareness of the situation, their potential, and actions to improve (Moen & Federici, 2012).

4.  The coach assists the coached individual in exploring possibilities and creating strategies and solutions regarding the coaching issue (Moen & Federici, 2011).

5.  Coaching is forward-focused and action-oriented. Coaching focuses on clarifying goals, creating plans to achieve those goals, and managing change. There’s a common saying about coaching, “coaching takes you from where you are, to where you want to be.”

6.  Coached individuals are motivated to be active in the coaching relationship through the coach’s use of coaching skills (Moen & Federici, 2012). Being present, focusing on the conversation, and active listening are keys to success with coaching.

7.  An effective coach enables coachees to self-reliance instead of cultivating dependency on others. A coach empowers an individual to figure out what that individual has, either within themselves or has access to, that will move them closer to their goal.

“Coaching is an art, and it’s far easier said than done. It takes courage to ask a question rather than offer up advice, provide an answer, or unleash a solution.” – Brené Brown

At the heart of coaching are a few key concepts. To achieve peak performance, people must see the relationship between their behaviors, thoughts, feelings, and underlying beliefs and the result of all of these in their lives. Coaches assist in creating awareness of these connections. Another essential concept is viewing the coachee as the expert. This concept assumes that each of us knows our own needs, situation, and goals best. Curiosity is essential to the coaching process. The coach must remain open and curious about the coached individual’s situation, asking questions instead of offering advice.

People in a conference room

Coaching is also a tool used to facilitate positive relationship dynamics. Coaching skills, such as active listening and asking questions, are also strong communication skills. When you add in curiosity, being open and present during the conversation, and consider the collaborative nature of coaching, it’s easy to see how relationships are positively affected.

While positive relationships may be an outcome of coaching, the primary focus is on creating strategies and taking action to achieve specific goals. Remember, a coach is a facilitator of a collaborative relationship that focuses on the development of the coached individual. A coach is curious about the perceptions of the coached individual, and coaching enables coachees to take ownership of their goals and path to achieve them.


Coaching is a partnership between the coach and coachee that involves a thought-provoking, reflective, and creative process to inspire an individual to maximize their personal and professional potential.


  • Beattie, R. S., Kim, S., Hagen, M. S., Egan, T. M., Ellinger, A. D., & Hamlin, R. G. (2014). Managerial coaching: A review of the empirical literature and development of a model to guide future practice.
  • International Coaching Federation. (n.d.). About ICF. Retrieved October 11, 2022, from https://coachingfederation.org/about
  • Moen, F., & Federici, R. A. (2011). Perceptions of coach competence and perceived need satisfaction: Assessing a Norwegian Coach Competence Scale.
  • Moen, F., & Federici, R. A. (2012). The effect of external executive coaching and coaching-based leadership on need satisfaction.