Understanding Coaching and the Role of a Coach

What is coaching? What’s the role of a coach?

What is coaching? How does it differ from counselling? How do I choose a good coach? These are all questions we might ask ourselves right at the start of our coaching journey, or as professionals who want to ensure we’re referring a client for the most appropriate support. To help you answer the questions you have about coaching, this article explores the purpose of coaching; looks at roles, responsibilities and characteristics of an effective coach; and touches on the issue of coach regulation.

What is the purpose of coaching?

Coaching is a future-focused process to enable someone to explore their options and create an action plan for themselves, empowering them to make positive, desired changes in their lives. It differs from other professional services such as counselling and mentoring and involves a careful balance of appropriate support and challenges. Under the assumption that individuals are capable of generating their own solutions through supportive, discovery-based frameworks, the coaching process does not include advising or counselling. It focuses on supporting personal and professional growth based on self-initiated change in pursuit of reaching an individual’s own (self-set) objectives that are linked to personal or professional success (International Coach Federation, 2016).

In comparison to other developmental processes, coaching is a relatively short-term activity aimed at addressing specific problems or areas of life. Being an unregulated profession, there are many definitions of coaching. However, most coaching professionals agree that it is a non-directive form of development consisting of one-to-one discussions that provide individuals with feedback on both their strengths and weaknesses (Jarvis, 2004). The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, which is particularly important in today’s uncertain and complex environment… This process helps clients dramatically improve their outlook on work and life, while improving their leadership skills and unlocking their potential” (ICF, 2016).

Traditionally, people were coached in the workplace when there were issues related to performance or behaviour. However, coaching is now widely accepted, both within and outside of the workplace, as a means of self-development to support the improvement of an individual’s performance and relationships, and the achievement of their potential.

Coaching helps by providing the clarity required to make wiser decisions; manage change; make best use of resources; and accelerate successful results (ICF, 2016), which may lead to enhanced career prospects, improved performance and better personal and professional relationships. It can be seen as “a collaborative, solution focused, result-orientated and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, self-directed learning and personal growth of the client” (Association for Coaching (AC), 2016).

What are the roles and responsibilities of a coach?

A coach’s role is to help people explore issues, unblock barriers, see different perspectives and increase the options that are consciously available to them before supporting them to make a decision and create an action plan to achieve their desired outcome.

ICF (2016) states that a coach should honour the client as the expert in his or her life and work and believe every client is creative, resourceful and whole. Standing on this foundation, the coach’s responsibility is to:

  • Discover, clarify, and align with what the client wants to achieve
  • Encourage client self-discovery
  • Elicit client-generated solutions and strategies
  • Hold the client responsible and accountable

What are the characteristics and behaviours of an effective coach?

A key characteristic of an effective coach is self-awareness. Being aware of personal beliefs, values and behaviours and knowing how these could potentially affect their practice enables an improved attitude of non-judgement due to an ability to identify when psychological processes have the potential for interfering with client work, with greater flexibility to adapt behaviour appropriately resulting in increased effectiveness to meet clients’ objectives. An effective coach will also recognise the limitations of their own competence and know when to signpost elsewhere.

A coach is empathetic without becoming personally involved and adapts their emotional state to meet the needs of the client. They use active listening skills including demonstrating interest, using positive body language and giving time to speak. They will develop rapport, maintaining an effective relationship, treating all clients with dignity and respect, thus developing trust and creating a safe space for the client to share.

Effective coaches believe individuals are capable of generating their own solutions and this is how they learn best, assisting the client to set their own goals; engaging the client to explore a variety of options for achieving these goals in a way that works best for them; ensuring the client has been facilitated to progress with their development between and after sessions (Abrahamsson et al, 2015). They do not direct their clients, but enable clients to reach their own conclusions and understanding through appropriate (open and, where useful, closed) questioning and use of tools and techniques, helping clients to see all the answers and resources they already hold within and enabling them to use them to achieve success. A key element of this is giving conversation their full attention, observing body language, practising patience and using silence appropriately, and reflecting or paraphrasing back to the client to check understanding.

Effective coaches are committed to self-development, practicing and reflecting on their skills; receiving and accepting feedback constructively and engaging supervision as required, improving personal standards of practice. Their passion for development often leads to experimentation with new tools, therefore they have more resources to help clients (at Quiet Connections we integrate a number of different coaching modalities including NLP, Blue Health, Positive Psychology and mBIT into our coaching practises). Good coaches also help others (individuals or organisations) to understand why coaching is effective within their context (Jones, 2015).

Coach regulation

As coaching remains an unregulated profession at present, it is a requirement of Quiet Connections that our coaches are Professional Members of an international regulatory body for coaching to ensure that coaches are deemed to have appropriate knowledge, qualifications and skillset and are trustworthy, ethical and accountable in their practise. Our coaches are Professional Members of The Association for NLP (ANLP), which means they have completed verified NLP Practitioner qualifications as part of their Coach training and have met the ANLP criteria and now adhere to the ANLP Code of Ethics.


Abrahamsson, G., Hemmer, N., Margariti, M., Moral, M., Pinto, A., Skelton, N., Vlerken, A. (2015) European Mentoring and Coaching Council [online] Available at http://www.emccouncil.org/webimages/EU/EIA/emcc-competence-framework-v2.pdf (4th October 2016)

Association for Coaching (AC) (2016) Association for Coaching [online]. Available at http://www.associationforcoaching.com/pages/about/coaching-defined (4th October 2016)

International Coach Federation (ICF) (2016) International Coach Federation [online]. Available at http://coachfederation.org/need/landing.cfm?ItemNumber=978 (4th October 2016)

Jarvis, J. (2004) Coaching and buying coaching services: A guide [online], Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. Available at: http://www.cipd.co.uk/NR/rdonlyres/C31A728E-7411-4754-9644-46A84EC9CFEE/0/2995coachbuyingservs.pdf (4th October 2016)

Jones, G. (2015) Innovation and Best Practice for Business Success [online]. Available at http://koganpage.com/article/5-top-essential-qualities (4th October 2016)


  • Hayley Stanton

    Hi, I’m Hayley - the original quieteer. I, too, identify as a quiet person. I’m naturally a highly sensitive introvert and I love and appreciate my quiet strengths now, but I spent much of my life not feeling good enough and experiencing social anxiety. I missed so many opportunities because I was afraid of being judged harshly, criticised and rejected – and because I doubted that I had the ‘right’ personality to succeed. Quiet Connections exists in part because I had a fantastic coach who helped me to work through old patterns of keeping myself small and hidden so that I could show up and be seen to play my part in creating the more connected, curious and compassionate world that I dream of. Now, I’m passionate about helping quiet people discover their unique qualities, gifts, passions and experiences and explore how best to use these to express themselves more authentically and contribute to the world in a way that works with their quieter or more sensitive nature. Get to know me here.

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