Many clients I work with are new to coaching. Here I explain the process in the following way:

  • First, I provide an overview of what coaching is
  • Second, I outline the overall process of coaching
  • Third, I give an example of what a session looks like

What is and is not coaching

old ancient door and window with old grunge brick wall

Taking a moment to think about the ways people use the term “coach”, an array of images may come to mind. A sports coach.  A management consultant. A teacher. An expert on leadership.

Though people use the term to apply to all of these, the actual field of professional and leadership coaching has a clearer definition. Both Jenny Rogers and Dianne R. Stober PhD have helpful language.

Coaching is a partnership of equals whose aim is to achieve speedy, increased and sustainable effectiveness through focused learning in every aspect of the client’s life. Coaching raises self-awareness and identifies choices. Working to the client’s agenda, the coach and client have the sole aim of closing the gaps between potential and performance.

– Jenny Rogers

Where much of therapy is focused on resolving deficits and weaknesses in the direction of restoring a person to functioning, coaching is a process focused on working with a person’s needs, wants, goals, or vision for where they want to go, and then designing steps for getting there.

– Dianne R. Stober PhD

As Stober mentions, one of the comparisons often made is between coaching and therapy. Here are a few distinctions:

  • In coaching, we do not diagnose or treat issues as in therapy. Instead the process is focused on your personal or professional goals and helping you achieve them.
  • Coaching does not attempt to tackle historical issues in your family or past, but instead it is action-oriented and focused on the present and future.
  • Coaching is founded on the principle that you are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. Though many different modes of therapy also follow this principle, it is of particular importance in the coaching relationship. This plays itself out in how a coach is not present to provide the answers but to help you dig into your own resources.

In sum, coaching is a relationship of equals aimed at helping you achieve transformation in your life and develop long-term resourcefulness. It is not about fixing you or forcing you into certain cultural style or personality. Though accountability and feedback are an essential component of the coaching relationship, you are in the driver’s seat.

Among many things, coaching can help you:

  • Identify goals
  • Gain increased self-awareness
  • Learn how to use talents and strengths
  • Build new skills and behaviors
  • Become unstuck on a habit or behavior
  • Make real change for yourself and your communities.

What is the process like?


Fit: First, the coach and client relationship is one about fit. We would initially meet together to see if I fit your needs. My number one goal is to help. I will want to meet with you and any other relevant stakeholders to understand:

  • What every party is looking for out of coaching
  • Expectations in a coach
  • Experience with formal coaching
  • Time availability & costs

Read more about establishing fit here.

Identify Goals & Approach: Second, if after an initial meeting we determine that this would be a good fit, then we would spend more time together to better understand your goals, feedback style, and determine what works with logistics. Each relationship and situation is unique, so I do not have a standard meeting frequency or approach. Depending on schedules, preferences, and goals, session length could last from 30 minutes to 90 minutes and frequency of sessions could be every week, every other week or once a month. A few helpful questions to answer are:

  • What does your schedule look like?
  • How much time feels appropriate for you to talk and process?
  • How much time in between sessions do you need to work on action items we agree upon?

Setting the stage: Third, before moving into the meat of the coaching process, we will spend time understanding your current situation. To know how to get to where you want to be, we have to understand where you currently are. This might entail exploration of your professional journey, identifying relevant feedback or assessment data, or reflection on key questions that shed light on blind spots and strengths. If we choose to use any assessments, they will only be those that are relevant and helpful.

Continuous coaching: Fourth, we will envision the future and develop an actionable  plan. This plan will serve as a backbone for our work together. We may choose to bring in specific tools and models, but there is no stock approach that works with every situation. You can see different tools or models I have used in my resources and tools section. Most coaching opportunities will use a combination of one-on-one sessions, practical skill-building, feedback, and observation if appropriate. Often sessions end with some kind of homework or assignment.

Transition: Lastly, all coaching engagements come to an end. In coaching, the beginning, middle, and end are essential. What this means is that we will spend time developing a transition plan so that you can reflect on what you have learned throughout the coaching engagement and design actions for continuous growth.

What is a session like?

Woman hand writing note pad on wood table in coffee shop.

In coaching, the client is in the driver seat. The coach’s job is not to provide the answers or give expert advice about how to approach a situation. I coach on the principle that the coach’s role is to be the facilitator of change, but not the one owning the change. Only you can make the change you need to make in your own life. What this looks like changes based on the person. But broadly speaking, it means:

  • You set the agenda: Minus a few sessions at the beginning where we are doing intake and determining goals, you are in charge. Each session starts with what issue or goal you would like to tackle. Sometimes that may be following up on a homework item from the previous week. Other times I may offer options about action items, but it is up to you to make the decision about what takes priority
  • We identify choices: Rooted in the humanistic approach to coaching is the fact that we always have a choice. It is not uncommon to look at a situation and see ourselves as helpless when in fact we always have a choice to make. Part of the value I add in coaching is helping you identify what those choices are.
  • You determine what’s the best course of action: In the above process, we may identify multiple options, but at the end of the day, you say yes or no to the right course of action for yourself. The point behind this is to help you find resourcefulness for the change in your own life. My role is provide accountability, processing and partnership to execute those choices.

A typical hour long coaching session could look like:

5 min – Catch up and review progress on assignment
5 min – Identify your goals and agenda for the session
40 min – Coaching around that agenda
5 min – Identify action items for follow-up
5 min – Feedback on session
Though in-person is preferred for a coaching session, we can also meet virtually over a video chat system such as google hangout or Skype.


Stober, D. (2006). Coaching from the Humanistic Perspetive in D.R. Stober & A.M. Grant (Eds.) Evidence Based Coaching: A Handbook (pp. 17-50). Hoboken, NJ: John Wily & Sons