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Coaching Definitions

Definitions from a variety of sources including reports, books and institutions.

International Coach Federation

Professional Coaching is an ongoing professional relationship that helps people produce extraordinary results in their lives, careers, businesses or organisations. Through the process of coaching, clients deepen their learning, improve their performance, and enhance their quality of life.

In each meeting, the client chooses the focus of conversation, while the coach listens and contributes observations and questions. This interaction creates clarity and moves the client into action. Coaching accelerates the client's progress by providing greater focus and awareness of choice. Coaching concentrates on where clients are now and what they are willing to do to get where they want to be in the future. ICF member coaches recognize that results are a matter of the client's intentions, choices and actions, supported by the coach's efforts and application of the coaching process.


Coaching is the act of helping someone – through expanding awareness and sharing experience – leverage their talents to do/be/have something MUCH faster than they could do alone. Anyone can benefit from becoming effective as a coach!

Executive coaching as a leadership development strategy

Turner, C.E., Unpublished doctoral dissertation, 2003, University of Toronto, Canada.

Executive coaching is a learning-centred, work-based development paradigm. It is a confidential partnership between a skilled coach and a willing client that is based on motivation, trust, action, and reflection, and which works through the medium of dialogue and continuous feedback.

Executive coaching sets in motion a chain of learning with a broad sphere of influence. Its direct beneficiaries are the executive and the organisation; but its benefits filter beyond the local arena to include the executive's personal life and the organisation's employees.

Interpersonal concerns such as leadership, authenticity and self-awareness are typical coaching goals, and the effectiveness of executive coaching in achieving these goals is best measured qualitatively.

Collected definitions from The Executive Coaching Academy

Summary findings from the International Executive Coaching Summit

“Executive Coaching is a facilitative one-to-one, mutually designed relationship between a professional coach and a key contributor who has a powerful position in the organisation…The coaching is contracted for the benefit of a client who is accountable for highly complex decisions with wide scope of impact on the organisation and industry as a whole. The focus of the coaching is usually focused on organisational performance or development, but it may also serve a personal component as well.”

Karol Wasylyshyn in “Coaching The Super-Keepers”

“There are four methodological factors that distinguish the coaching of super-keepers from that of other employees…These factors are: 1) holistic approach, 2) deep behavioural insight, 3) the active involvement of top corporate executives and 4) sustained relationships with the coach and/or trusted internal collaborator ‘usually a senior human resource professional).”

Wasylyshyn’s approach to coaching senior executives is a collaborative and pragmatic one integrating depth psychology and strategic business priorities:

“Executive Coaching is a company-sponsored perk for top high potential employees. It is a customized and holistic development process that provides deep behavioural insights intended to accelerate an executive’s business results and effectiveness as a leader. This coaching is based on a collaborative relationship among the executive, his/her boss, his/her human resources manager, and an executive coach.”

Richard R Kilburg in Executive Coaching: Developing Managerial Wisdom in a World of Chaos

“Executive coaching is defined as a helping relationship formed between a client who has managerial authority and responsibility in an organisation and a consultant who uses a wide variety of behavioural techniques and methods to assist the client achieve a mutually identified set of goals to improve his or her professional performance and personal satisfaction and consequently to improve the effectiveness of the client’s organization within a formally defined coaching agreement.”

Mary Beth O’Neill “Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart”

“The essence of executive coaching is helping leaders get unstuck from their dilemmas and assisting them to transfer their learning into results for the organisation.”

O’Neill also writes about how it is vital to be “managing your own challenges” and helping the client transfer learning. Hers seems to be an Organisational Development perspective.

Robert J. Lee syllabus for “Change At the Executive Level”

 “Coaching is a one-on-one development process formally contracted between a professional coach and a management-level client to increase the client’s managerial and/or leadership performance, often using action learning.”

Lee’s perspective might be summarised as an organisational consulting approach including action learning.

David L. Dotlich and Peter C. Cairo in “Action Coaching”, page 18.

“Action coaching is a process that fosters self-awareness and that results in the motivation to change, as well as the guidance needed if change is to take place in ways that meet organisational needs.”

Dotlich and Cairo also write about self-awareness linked to business results and an action plan put in place. Dotlich and Cairo seem to have an organisational consulting business results, action learning perspective.

Robert Hargrove in “Masterful Coaching” page 17

“A masterful coach is a vision builder and value shaper…who enters into the learning system of a person, business, or social institution with the intent of improving it so as to impact people’s ability to perform.”

Hargrove has also stated “Coaching is intervening in the drift. [And] “You don’t need a coach to turn out the lights” in interview on “Top Coaches in the USA” videotape. Hargrove rejects the idea of calling himself an executive coach or even a coach, preferring to see himself as a “conversation partner”.

Hargrove calls his approach to coaching transformational.

James Flaherty “Coaching: Evoking Excellence in Others”, page xii.

“Coaching is not telling people what to do; it’s giving them a chance to examine what they are doing in light of their intensions.”

Flaherty’s approach has been described as one of personal construction.

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