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Few people look for a coach when everything in their life is working well and feeling good. They seek a coach when they need to change something, even if they’re not sure what that ‘something’ might be. It might be their diet, their career, their work-life balance or their sense of disconnection from their life goals – whatever it is, a coach’s role is to facilitate healthy change that connects an unsatisfactory present with a more gratifying future. How the coach facilitates this change varies according to the unique needs of the programme, but clients often have a skewed impression of what role the coach will play.

Here are 3 examples of what a coach is NOT:

1 – A therapist

To varying degrees, the coaching process involves understanding and integration of the client’s mental and emotional fields. But coaching work is not designed to ‘fix’ a person, even though the coaching process often shakes the client free of old patterns of limiting behaviour. Every client (and coach) enters a coaching relationship with their own history and baggage, and though it is always important to acknowledge this and be aware of its impact on the client’s topic, this is not the focus of the programme. If you feel that you are being held back in development due to emotional or psychological difficulties from your past, it is probably wiser to approach a therapist before a coach. If you’re not sure, then book an introductory appointment with a coach and raise that concern with them. Most coaches don’t charge for introductory sessions, and professional ethics dictate that they recommend you see a mental wellness professional if your topic relates to more deep-seated psycho-emotional factors. I have coached clients who were seeing a therapist at the same time and the combination proved useful, but the success of that arrangement really depends on the unique qualities of each coaching intervention.

2- A buddy

One of the coach’s roles is to provide support, perhaps even accountability partnering and day-to-day motivation. And, though most coaches and clients develop a close relationship over the course of their programme together, don’t make the mistake of seeing your coach as another training and development buddy. To do so erodes the fundamental distinction between coach and client that is at the heart of the relationship. Unconsciously, the more your coach feels like a buddy, the less authority you ascribe to their knowledge and guidance, and the more likely you are to stall in your progress. Of course, rapport and trust are critical to the success of a coaching relationship, but a good coach will build these while maintaining a healthy professional distance. This issue can sometimes become blurry when you reach the natural conclusion of a coaching programme – as a client you may fear you will not be able to make progress in your topic once you say goodbye to your coach. This is an ethical consideration for the coach: part of his/her responsibility is to support you in reaching a point where you are self-sufficient, while avoiding the establishment of a co-dependent relationship. One of the negative coaching stereotypes that has developed is that of the coach who stretches programmes out for as long as possible to milk the client relationship. While there is unfortunately justification for this view and it remains one of the considerations to bear in mind as a client, it only represents a minority of coaches.

3 – A personal assistant

Though the rewards are astonishing, change is tough, often far tougher than people expect. If a coaching programme is well-scaled, the client almost always hits a wall at some point. This is necessary and is one of the reasons that a coach is so valuable when you are trying to make a change, because it is at this point that most people quit, and professional guidance and support is often needed to push through the resistance. But, the other inevitable client realisation is that the only person who can do the work is you. A coach cannot share the load or deal with challenges on your behalf, nor is their job to carry your backpack while you make the climb. Progress in your topic will make success in important parts of your life easier, and that is why you hire a coach. It is not so that you can outsource the tough stuff. This is particularly true in the case of mentoring, when clients seek out someone who has essentially done what they are in the process of trying to do. Clients often mistake the guide for the path, and assume that they will be gifted the magical to-do list that will get them to their destination. This belief is based on another trickier assumption: the mentor has already done all the work, that’s why I’m paying them. Truth is, no two people walk the same road, and while a mentor is an experienced advisor, the walking is still up to you.


Photo by Matthew Fassnacht on Unsplash