Ask ten different people to define “coaching,” and you’ll get ten different responses. Allow me to lift the fog around coaching by suggesting that there are three primary types of coaches—the skills coach, the mentor coach, and the professional coach? All three types of coaches are valid and helpful within the bounds of what they’re designed to do.

Skills Coaching

Sports coaches, personal trainers, voice coaches, and real estate coaches fall into this category. These coaches are generally trained in a specific skill in which an individual wishes to improve. The skills coach may or may not have had training in coaching skills; their singular expertise qualifies them as a coach. We can improve in any sport, or other highly skilled activity by engaging a skills coach.
Characteristics of skills coaching include:

  • Heavy instruction
  • Highly directive, coach-led
  • Narrow focus on a skill
  • The individual submits to the direction of their skills coach
  • Usually a formal arrangement

The skills coach says, “Do it like this…”

Mentor Coaching

Mentor coaches generally have years of experience and expertise in a specific field qualifies them to coach. Mentor coaches are frequently found in business and professional settings. Usually, a mentor coach is a veteran, showing a junior person the ropes. A mentor coach may or may not have training in coaching skills and requires no certification.
Characteristics of mentor coaching include:

  • Moderate instruction
  • Moderately directive, coach- and individual-led
  • Usually a targeted focus
  • The individual defers to the direction of their mentor coach
  • Can be either formal or informal arrangement

The mentor coach says, “Do what I have done…”

Professional Coaching

Professional coaches are professionals trained in the competencies of coaching and become certified to demonstrate mastery of coach competencies. They often refer to themselves as life coaches, executive coaches, leadership coaches, and the like.
Professional coaches are unique among coaches in that their skills enable them to coach others proficiently in a wide variety of life and work issues.
Characteristics of professional coaching include:

  • Open-ended questioning
  • Non-directive, client-led
  • Focuses on the client’s agenda
  • The coach empowers the client to self-direct
  • Formal arrangement

The professional coach asks, “What would you like to achieve?”
The professional coach, unlike the skills and mentor coaches, empowers the individual to direct their coaching experience, creating an entirely different dynamic for the individual being coached. The individual is challenged to delve into untapped personal resources.
Skills and mentor coaches are usually interested only in what goes on in the individual’s life as it pertains to the skill or proficiency at hand. On the other hand, the professional coach is trained to uncover hidden obstacles to success in the client’s life.
For instance, a client comes to coaching, seeking accountability for a lofty business goal. In the coaching process, the coach asks questions that promote client self-discovery. The client realizes there’s a rift in his relationship with his spouse that will undoubtedly impede progress toward meeting his business goal. So the coach assists the client in determining how to repair his relationship and meet his goal.
The professional coach, unlike the skills and mentor coaches, offers a holistic approach to growth and development, addressing issues the client brings to the session, even those yet to be uncovered.
While all coaching is helpful within the bounds of what it was created to do, professional coaching alone honors the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believes every client is creative, resourceful and whole.
How do you define coaching?

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