Introduction to the Coaching Profession

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Introduction to the Coaching Profession

This article is a basic introduction to the coaching profession and includes some coaching definitions

Interested in learning more about what is coaching? This is a good place to start. This article is designed to give you a bird’s eye view of this growing phenomenon called coaching. We explore some definitions and introduce you to four of the main coaching organizations we know. See our expanded list below for more.

Coaching as a practice is very young and is made up of practitioners from a wide variety of disciplines and backgrounds, from business consulting, Human Relations (HR) and Organizational Development (OD), and training, to sports, education, and philosophy, to any number of psychological disciplines such as industrial/organizational (I/O) psychology, counseling psychology, clinical psychology, and social psychology. Given the varied backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives coaches bring, it is not surprising to see a lack of consensus about definitions, methods, and techniques.

Anthony Grant, one of our council of advisors offers an introduction to one perspective on coaching and how it differs from other approaches. He was one of the first to suggest that coaching could be as evidence based as other disciplines and to explore some of the challenges to becoming more professionalized.  Below is his powerpoint presentation, Evidence-based Coaching What, How and Why?

What is coaching?

There are perhaps as many different definitions of coaching as there are coaches practicing the art. This speaks to the variety and diversity of perspectives pertaining to coaching.

Coaching at a glance: (Common definitions)

  • A coach transports a valued person from where they are to where they want to be. --old Webster
  • A pragmatic approach to help people manage their acquisition or improvement of skills’ and can be either ‘directive or non-directive (David Clutterbuck, 1998)
  • A coach is a trusted role model, adviser, wise person, friend, steward, or guide – who works with emerging human and organizational forces to tap new energy and purpose, to shape new visions and plans, and to generate desired results. The coach is someone trained and devoted to guiding others into increased competence, commitment and confidence. (Frederic Hudson, in Handbook of Coaching)
  • A collaborative solution-focused, results-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth of individuals and organizations (Anthony Grant, 2006)
  • The process of equipping people with the tools, knowledge and opportunities they need to develop themselves and become more effective (David Peterson, 1996)
  • Executive coaching is one-on-one, relationship based, methodology based, provided by a professional coach, scheduled in multiple sessions over time, goal-oriented for both individual and organizational benefit, customized to the person, and intended to enhance the person’s ability to learn and develop independently (David Peterson, 2010)
  • The facilitation of learning and development with the purpose of improving performance and enhancing effective action, goals achievement, and personal satisfaction (Peter Bluckert, 2006)
  • Coaching is a change process that mobilizes the strengths and realizes the potential of an individual or an organization (IC, 2010)
  • Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize his or her own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them. --Center for Creative Leadership

For many, the unique aspect of coaching is it's emphasis on helping clients discover their resources and how it can foster a process where clients find their own solutions. In practice, it is probably a bit more complex, as some practice "pure" non-directive coaching and others weave in advisory comments.  Which is better?  We hope to explore these and other issues in our discussion sections.


Curious about what some people think about executive coaching?

The Executive Coaching Forum provides the following definition of executive coaching. 

The Forum's Charter is to:

Promote the best practices, ethical guidelines and understanding of Executive Coaching for all members of the coaching partnership (the coach, the executive being coached, and the executive's organization) to enhance leadership and organizational effectiveness on a global basis. We achieve these ends by:

  •  Identifying best practices

  •  Establishing high standards for the professional practice of executive coaching

  • Encouraging networking and sharing of ideas and information within the field, which we develop, maintain, and make available free of charge through the world-wide web.

Our work is built upon the foundation of the principles and guidelines defined in The Executive Coaching Handbook from the Executive Coaching Forum

Definition of Executive Coaching

Executive coaching is an experiential and individualized leader development process that builds a leader’s capability to achieve short- and long-term organizational goals. It is conducted through one-on-one and/or group interactions, driven by data from multiple perspectives, and based on mutual trust and respect. The organization, an executive, and the executive coach work in partnership to achieve maximum impact.

Definition of Terms
  • Experiential. The development of the leader(s) is accomplished primarily by practical, on-the- job approaches rather than through classroom or more abstract methods.
  • Individualized. The goals and specific activities are tailored to the unique aspects of the individual(s) and the organizational system.
  • Leader development process: Executive coaching focuses on developing the executive’s ability to influence, motivate, and lead others. Rather than relying on tactical problem solving or basic skill acquisition, executive coaching develops strategic thinking skills. 
  • Leader: We use the term broadly to mean any individual(s) who have the potential of making a significant contribution to the mission and purpose of the organization.
  • One-on-one: The primary coaching activities take place between the individual leader(s) and the coach.
  • Build capability: Developing new ways of thinking, feeling, acting, learning, leading, and relating to others builds individual and organizational effectiveness.
  • Data from multiple perspectives: In order for the executive and her principal stakeholders to understand, clarify, and commit to appropriate coaching goals, various data collection methods are used to identify key factors and skills required in the organizational context. The appropriate use of interviews and standardized instruments assures accuracy and validity of data gathered from people representing a range of perspectives within the organization. 
  • Mutual trust and respect: Adult learning works best when the executive and the coach, along with other members of the organization, treat each other as equals, focus on their mutual strengths, and believe in each others’ integrity and commitment to both coaching and the organization.

The Graduate School Alliance of Executive Coaching (GSAEC) involved in efforts to set standards for graduate coach training.

GSAEC Definition of Executive and organizational coaching:

A development process that builds a leader’s capabilities to achieve professional and organizational goals. A leader is an individual who has the potential of making a significant contribution to the mission and purpose of the organization. This coaching is conducted through one-on-one and group interactions, driven by evidence/data from multiple perspectives, and is based on mutual trust and respect. The coach, individuals being coached, and their organizations work in partnership to help achieve the agreed upon goals of the coaching. Where to Learn How to be a Coach So you want to learn how to coach? There is a multitude of training organizations and graduate programs specifically designed to help you develop coaching competencies.


For executive coaching, the executive coaching forum has the following definition of coaching


The Executive Coaching Forum promote the best practices, ethical guidelines and understanding of Executive Coaching for all members of the "coaching partnership" (the coach, the executive being coached, and the executive's organization) as well as with the general public to enhance leadership and organizational effectiveness.  What follows is from their handbook.

"Perhaps from a more tangible perspective, six distinguished psychologists and executives offer insights on what is coaching and what it takes to be a great executive coach."

The Executive Coaching Handbook: Principles and Guidelines for a Successful Coaching Partnership


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  • Belmont, MA 02478
  • Phone: 617-767-2670