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What is really meant by “Coaching?”

By DJ Mitsch, MCC  February 6, 2020

Sixteen years ago when we started our corporate coaching company, it was often difficult to explain to a prospective client what “coaching” was all about. As time has passed, it has actually become even more difficult to distinguish “coaching” from the myriad offerings available in the training and leadership development space.

Coaching is now a buzz word attached to just about every form of professional development. There are executive coaches, life coaches, marketing coaches, wellness coaches, family coaches, team coaches, group coaches, career coaches, speaking coaches, writing coaches, productivity coaches, and many more. So how do you know if you are buying master level “coaching” or just another training or consulting activity that is labeled as coaching?

The International Coach Federation (ICF) has done a phenomenal job of legitimizing the coaching profession. However, the ICF’s definition of coaching is very broad and leaves open many possible interpretations. The ICF defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” Applying this definition may not clarify the distinction between coaching and other offerings labeled as coaching.

A few additional distinctions may be helpful. Coaching is often compared with the practices of counseling, mentoring and consulting. Given that most people understand the traditional application of counseling, here are a few differences between mentoring, consulting and coaching to help distinguish the three approaches.

In a mentoring relationship, the focus of the work is primarily on succession preparation and training. An experienced executive serving as mentor helps a more junior staff member to learn the ropes and shares their learning and experience. The mentor has the answers and provides guidance and wisdom to help their colleague advance successfully in an organization.

In consulting, the consultant is hired to solve a problem and to provide their unique expertise. They have all the answers and provide advice.

In contrast, a coaching approach stays focused on the present situation with an executive or a team. The coach helps the client find the answers through careful listening, questioning, and challenging. The coach and client work together and most importantly, the coach holds the client or team responsible for their commitments.

Depending on the circumstances, companies may be better served by hiring a consultant or engaging an executive in a mentoring relationship. Just be aware that the approach taken is different than if “coaching” was employed as an option. And this leads to the final question…how do you know if you are truly hiring a “coach?”

With so many professionals labeling themselves as coaches, it can be difficult to wade through the promotional material flooding the marketplace. Here are some tips for hiring coaches and coaching companies:

  • Look for coaches with ICF credentials. If a coach has ICF credentials, you will know that they have completed coach-specific training and recognize coaching as a distinct profession. A PCC – professional certified coach – – has logged 750 hours of coaching experience and has completed a rigorous application process, including a certificate from coach specific training. The MCC – master certified coach – has completed 2,500 hours of professional coaching and has demonstrated leadership contributions to advancing coaching as a profession.
  • Look for companies who offer choices among their coaching team. Coaching is a very personal activity and clients need to have the option of choosing the coach with whom they are most comfortable. Simply randomly assigning a coach to an executive or team can be very counterproductive, and not achieve desired results.
  • Ask for an outline of the coaching process to be followed. Are there processes that provide for feedback and company alignment while also maintaining confidentiality in the coach/client relationship? How will the sponsors stay in the loop on progress, while the coaching contract remains confidential between the coach and leader?

Coaching has come a long way since its humble origins in the early 90’s. Studies have been conducted on the effectiveness of coaching with documented return on investment studies being published regularly. We will touch on some of those ROI studies in a future blog entry. For more about recent research findings, visit

DJ Mitsch, MCC

Darelyn “DJ” Mitsch is the Chief Energy Officer of the Pyramid Resource Group, a Master Certified Coach, and a founding member and former president of the International Coach Federation (ICF). She is a world-class coach and creative partner for innovative leaders and teams. DJ designed this program based on her passion for bringing people fully to life as they change the game of work!



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