What Is Coaching...And What It Is Not.

Article by Patricia Russell on What is Coaching...What is it not.

This article on What is Coaching and what is it not was written for this website by the experienced coach, Patricia Russell. She has found such disparity about the jargon commonly found associated with coaching and how things should be.

Enjoy the read! 

As an ever more frequent term in the business world, coaching has become one of those topics that has a lot of uncertainty about it. Having been coached and coached others, in this article, I would like to look at coaching is and what it is not. 

Defining What is Coaching

When coaching clients, I like to keep my definition of coaching simple: to guide and support an individual to unlock and fulfil their true potential.  The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential” This definition certainly resonates with me.  

Coaching is a methodical process that is tailored to the individual client, designed to promote their personal development. As it focuses to create a sense of awareness for the person, coaching encourages them to take on responsibility for their own lives and actions. Successful coaching can only take place if there is a collaborative and equal relationship between the coach and client, as this gives the answers within ourselves a context and a meaning.

Key Aspects of Coaching

One of the key tenets of coaching is to hold the person in unconditional positive regard.  A coach should be 100% focused on the person and on positive outcomes.

A good coach will listen actively, challenge, empathise, support, provide care and respect, question, and build a relationship with the person that is based on honesty and discretion. All is done with a main focus on personal and professional growth.

In Mary Beth O’Neill’s book, “Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart”, Mary Beth clearly describes what is coaching for executives and that is not to be seen as a “finishing school” for the next level or promotion.  It should not take place without a business measure and it certainly should not be used for performance management.

Coaching is not Counselling

While counselling has its focus on dysfunction, remedy, healing, problems, emotional feelings, and long-term remedies, coaching’s role is more in the personal evolution, growth, results, problem-solving, self-discovery, learning and development, change, capacity building and personal accountability. The aim of coaching is more to ask “what” than to focus of the “why” of counselling.

Corporate Coaching Initiatives

In my own experience of workplace coaching and being coached within a large corporate organisation, too often a “coaching culture” can be rolled out in organisations without specificity, true definition and contracting.  Clarity about why and how coaching should take place, with contracted commitments from both sides in carrying out the coaching sessions on issues such as non-disclosure, discretion, willingness to work with the programme and open honesty are often omitted. As a result, coaching activities are seen as a necessary evil to keep the boss happy. 

As John Whitmore observes in “Coaching for Performance”, “A manager must be experienced as a support, not a threat”. 

What can be counter-productive to embedding a functioning “coaching culture” in an organisation are the short-term financial focus for end of year results, never mind a predominantly “tell” or top-down management style.  The greatest barrier to securing effectiveness of coaching is the high workload of the individuals as well as a certain element of “What is Coaching, but something for the under-performers!”

My Own Experience

I also want to reflect on my past coaching experience when I was coached for 6 sessions.  While my coach used a lot of tools including wheel of life, stakeholder mapping, 360-degree feedback and psycho-metrics I really don’t think that this coaching was very effective.  The primary reason I believe was the lack of a specific goal and professional outcome. These are elementary to good coaching.  This approach really fell into what Mary Beth O’Neill describes as “finishing school”.  There was no clear outcome considering all the time and resources we spend carrying it out.


Overall coaching can be truly transformative.   However, it is very important that the coach and the coachee have an aligned view of the goal or outcome and understand what is coaching and what isn’t.  I have had many successes and one that comes to mind is a client who was considered high talent in a big corporate organisation, undergoing restructuring.  The restructuring had considerably unsettled my client and the goal of the coaching sessions was to conclude if she should take a promotion in a different area (not her expertise), stay where she was or leave the organisation.  Over our coaching sessions she decided to take the promotion.  This was two years ago.  She is now at an executive level within that organisation.  

You don’t need to be at such a big “cross-roads” to benefit from coaching but if you are stuck and want to become unstuck then I am sure that coaching can help. What is coaching but a process by which you can develop personally and professionally in ways you may never have previously considered!

Please see details below if you would like an initial discussion to see if I can help you or your business. 

Tricia Russell, Personal, Career and Business Coach.

Mobile: +353 86 3812448

Email: patriciarussellfinndan1970@outlook .com


About Me: I have an Advanced Diploma in Personal, Leadership and Executive Coaching, QQI Fetac Level 6.   I have over 20 years experience in the corporate world as a senior leader and both experience of being coached and coaching.  I have gone through a considerable career transition in the last of couple of years and have a start up business in med tech.  This has given me great insight into career transitioning and the challenges of start-ups.  I continue to coach as it is truly a passion of mine.  Also a little bit about me.  I am a down to earth Mum of two boys, and dislike corporate jargon.