What Coaching Is, And What It’s Not - Part 1

John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux of Lumia Coaching break down the myths and misconceptions to get at what life coaching is really all about and how to do it right.

The Everything Life Coaching Podcast, featuring Lumia Coaching founders John Kim and Noelle Cordeaux, is a deep dive into the experience and business of being a life coach. This episode originally aired on April 23, 2021, and the accompanying blog has been updated to include additional resources. Subscribe to get new episodes weekly!

What Does A Life Coach Do (And Not Do)?

The most common distinctions you’ll hear about what coaching is (and isn’t) are based on comparisons to other disciplines. For example, we’re told that a life coach helps people achieve their goals... and that it’s not therapy, mentoring, or consulting.

But what does that look like in action?

When a professional coach is working with one-on-one clients, the facilitation of a coaching session is pretty straightforward. Conversations are focused on what the client wants to work through in a given session. The life coach uses either free-flow intuitive questioning or a coaching framework to work a client through a process of discovery, moving the client towards a state of greater clarity or awareness, and the formation of action steps based upon those personal insights.

So what makes defining it so confusing?

You may have heard that life coaching is "an unregulated industry." That's true. And while anyone technically can call themselves a life coach, we don’t advise it. Becoming a successful coach requires hard work, serious study, and a business mindset.

Life coaching is a job, just like any other job.

The theoretical roots of coaching stem from sports psychology, goal setting theory, human development models, positive psychology, mindfulness, and neuroscience. As a life coach, it's necessary to have an understanding of change theory and human development in order to be effective. Understanding the science behind why coaching works alongside the application of those techniques is a fascinating and worthwhile endeavor.

The work of a professional life coach is fundamentally about holding space and asking good questions. The most important thing we do is to provide expert facilitation.

Let’s break down a list of common life coaching practices and pitfalls compiled by Duke University and sift through what’s what.

Life Coaching Best Practices

Coaching IS: Building Hope and Motivation

Coaching is NOT: Monitoring other people’s behavior 

This can apply to so many different kinds of relationships:

  • Work
  • Intimate partners or family members
  • Friends

The life coaching skill that is used here is our ability to occupy a space of non-judgement. It’s about holding others as capable of getting stuff done in their own way.

Coaching IS: Being Real and Authentic

Coaching is NOT: Hiding behind a position of power, the pseudo self, or posturing

Here the life coaching muscle we’re using is showing up in our integrity, and allowing for the other’s autonomy. When we allow ourselves and others to pull from values that stem authentically from within us, everything just goes more smoothly. But when we try to force or gain based on outside approval, or a facade we think we need to portray… everything feels icky.

Coaching IS: Allowing Mistakes

Coaching is NOT: Punitive

We cannot overstate the importance of this one. Whenever people are trying to move forward and make change, mistakes WILL happen! When we accept this as a natural part of life, we can pick up and learn from what went wrong and move on pretty quickly.

On the other hand, if we are punitive or punishing to ourselves or others, we can get stuck in a shame spiral. Nothing moves forward from that place.

The life coaching skill in play here is to meet people where they are.

There will be times when a client doesn’t follow through on an action, or takes a step backward. Our role is to remind them that it’s OK when things go wrong, and help them constructively work their way through the roadblocks.

Even if we believe a client may be moving in the wrong direction, that’s not our call. A life coach walks beside the client as they make their own decisions, and helps them learn from what the client perceives as mistakes along the way.

Coaching IS: Constructive Use of Differences

Coaching is NOT: Squashing conflict

Humans hate conflict. Why? Because whenever we get the sense that we might be “wrong,” our pain centers get lit up and we feel psychological anguish. This might look like a shrinking feeling of “wanting to stay out of trouble,” or hot flares of anger or resentment.

We can learn so much from conflict. But that takes an ability to engage our life coaching muscle of noticing a pain response when it's present, helping the client set emotions to the side, and getting curious about what we can learn from the conflict.

The workplace is one area in particular where this is a very valuable skill to build.

When a leader is surrounded by really bright diverse thinkers, having lots of different opinions is an ASSET to whatever problem you are trying to solve. Unfortunately, the way most work hierarchies are structured is that those in “higher” positions are usually expected to have better ideas.

Not only is this untrue, it’s counterproductive to actually tapping into the genius of every member of a group. A “coaching culture” is a way of facilitating and communicating that gives every idea equal value, regardless of one’s position of power within an organization, friend group, or family unit.

NOTICE: Power and "rightness" have a long history with racism, sexism, and white supremacy - this is something that is always worthy of examination.

To Recap, Life Coaching IS:

  • Allowing others to be independent decision makers so they can learn and grow for themselves
  • Being real and authentic by showing up based on our true internal values - and letting others do the same
  • Learning from mistakes rather than punishing ourselves or others
  • Seeing conflict as an opportunity for learning about other people’s ideas and ways of seeing things

Ready to learn more?

Check out the next installment in this series: What Coaching Is, and What It's Not - Part 2.

Want to Be A Life Coach?

One of our values at Lumia is that we dare to be different. Our life coaches ignore the expectations society tries to impose on them, and seek to live from their own truth instead. If you are ready to step into your power to leave your mark on the world and you’d like some partners in the process, come check out Lumia Life Coach Training

Lumia Coaching: Vibrant community. Evidence-based life coach training. Lifetime support.

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