From time to time I have the opportunity of explaining what it is I do as a life coach. Though coaching, as a more formal discipline, has been around only for a few decades, the skills of listening and asking great questions to produce self-discovery have been used by people for thousands of years. Many of you, my readers, may be a bit unclear as to exactly what coaching is and what kind of service I offer others as a life coach.
Definitions of coaching
Let me start with these definitions of coaching, the first five taken from Tony Stoltzfus’ book Leadership Coaching:
- “Coaches are change experts who help leaders take responsibility and act to maximize their own potential.” Joseph Umidi
- “Coaching is practicing the disciplines of believing in people in order to empower them to change.” Tony Stoltzfus
- “Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their growth.” John Whitmore
- “Coaching is the art and practice of guiding a person or group from where they are toward the greater competence and fulfillment that they desire.” Gary Collins
- “Mentoring is imparting to you what God has given me; coaching is drawing out of you what God has put in you.” Dale Stoll
- “Coaching is the art of helping people make the kind of changes that will move them from where they are to where they want to be, without telling them what to do.” (me)
Coaching differs from other helping disciplines in its fundamental approach
Coaching is a helping profession and is rightfully listed among other helping disciplines such as counseling, mentoring, spiritual direction, and consulting. It is similar to these other approaches in that it is aimed at helping others gain ground in their life from where they currently are toward a more desired and positive outcome or future. It is unique in the fact that it diverges from approaches that are more diagnostic and prescriptive in nature such as counseling and consulting. In both counseling and consulting the counselor and consultant are the experts who diagnose the problem and then advise a fix. It is unique from mentoring in the fact that again the mentor is the more experienced individual sharing their experience and wisdom so the one they are mentoring can learn and grow. 
Coaching embodies a core belief that people are unique and gifted individuals, capable of thinking for themselves, processing information, hearing God, and making purposeful and strategic decisions for their own lives that can move them toward their potential and purpose. In coaching the client is considered to be the expert on their own life. The coach certainly brings a certain expertise to the table but not necessarily an expertise on the specific subject the client wishes to be coached around. (I will talk more about the expertise a coach brings to the relationship in a later blog.)
In a coaching relationship both the power and responsibility for achieving a well-formed outcome lies with the client, not the coach. In this sense coaching is an extremely empowering approach in helping someone. It is the client that identifies the future target they wish to aim for, the obstacles that stand in their way, the options they have to choose from, and the actions they are committed to take to get there. A good coach simply enables this discovery process by listening well and asking great questions so the client can think deeply, gain fresh insights or a different perspective, and make really good decisions – decisions that are well thought through and ones the client is highly committed to act on.
Coaching is an intentionalized conversation
Coaching is an intentionalized conversation with another person with the aim of helping them move forward in a positive way. In other words it is a purposeful conversation that follows a distinctive pattern – a conversational model for helping someone process their thoughts and arrive at an action to be taken. I like what Chad Hall of Coach Approach Ministries says along these lines; “As Christ-followers, we know relationships are a key to expressing and expanding the Kingdom of God, and at the core of real relationships are conversations. But too often our conversations are too casual or too controlling. There is a third way to hold conversations – – a facilitative approach that can be used by God to do his work in us and others. This approach makes our conversations more heaven-like.” Coaching embodies this facilitative approach to conversations.
Life and growth is all about change and transition. Wired into each of us is a God-given potential and purpose which we have responsibility to discover and properly steward. Having another person come alongside of us for a season to facilitate this process of growth and change, whether formally or informally, is something every person can benefit from.