Module 1: What is a Learning Leader?


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Twenty years ago, no one had heard of life, business, or corporate coaching. Today it is featured in The New York Times, Fortune Magazine, Oprah and CNN. But still, most of ethe world has not heard of it. Demand for coaching is expected to grow and may accelerate. What will happen when the first major movie featuring a life coach hits the street? Corporations are jumping on the bandwagon with Fortune 100 companies creating both external and internal coaching positions.

The International Coach Federation defines coaching in the following way:

"Professional coaches provide an ongoing partnership designed to help clients produce fulfilling results in their personal and professional lives. Coaches help people improve their performances and enhance the quality of their lives."

Coaches are trained to listen, to observe and to customize their approach to individual client needs. They seek to elicit solutions and strategies from the client; they believe the client is naturally creative and resourceful. The coach’s job is to provide support to enhance the skills, resources, and creativity that the client already has.”

In many ways coaching is a comparably new profession that blends the best concepts from business, psychology, philosophy, sports and spirituality. However, although coaching combines skills from other disciplines, it is a distinct process of supporting others to create an ideal life. Coaches work with clients on a variety of topics: from business and professional issues to personal and spiritual concerns. A coach is an advocate, a sounding board, a cheerleader, an accountability partner, a truth teller and a supporter.

Coaching involves dialogue between a coach and a client with the aim of helping the client obtain a fulfilling life. This is achieved by helping the client establish what is important to them and by clarifying their values. With the client’s input the coach co-creates value based goals and a plan to achieve them. Through collaboration, the coach supports the client to achieve these goals.

A coach offers many things to the client during the coaching process such as:

  1. Support to discover the answers within him or herself
  2. Clarification of values
  3. Co-creation of a plan for how to achieve what the client really wants
  4. A sounding board for new ideas
  5. Support in making life changing decisions
  6. Challenge to expand their views beyond their perceived limitations
  7. Direction
  8. Acknowledgment
  9. Encouragement
  10. Resource information

What Coaching is Not

As a relatively new profession, coaching is a methodology that draws on a range of other more traditional professions including psychology, business consulting, mentoring management theory and adult learning. However coaching is a unique field and there are significant differences between coaching and these fields.

Coaching and Therapy

Coaching is not therapy, counseling or psychology. Although intervention often follows some psychological models such as behavioral theory, the actual process of coaching should not be mistaken for a therapeutic intervention. One of the most obvious differences between the two approaches is that therapy tends to focus on feelings and experiences related to past events, whereas coaching is oriented towards goal setting and encourages the client to move forward. A therapist typically works with a dysfunctional person to get them to become functional. A coach works with a functional person to get them to become exceptional. Therapists typically work with people who need help to become emotionally healthy.

A coach works with people who are already emotionally healthy to move them to magnificent levels. Coaching does not rely on past issues for achieving growth, but rather focuses on goals towards the future. Coaching is action oriented. The focus is on where the client is right now, where they want to be next, and how to get them there.

If you are working in the past, then you are involved in therapy. If, the client is stuck and can’t seem to move forward or if there is a drug or alcohol problem, then you are more likely doing something other than coaching. Often starting a coaching process will help a client realize a need for therapy. Be alert. If you feel uncomfortable or uneasy about where the conversation is leading, tell your client. Part of being a good coach is knowing when and when not to coach. If the client needs therapy then refer them to a therapist.

Coaching and Consulting

Coaching is often likened to consulting. However, there are distinct differences between these disciplines. A consultant is usually a specialist in a given area. They are hired to give recommendations and provide solutions. A consultant works with a client to solve a particular problem or to address a specific issue. Once the problem is solved or the issue addressed, the consultant leaves. Generally, a consultant doesn’t get involved with areas outside of their specialty. Coaching uses a more holistic approach. With the client, the coach examines the situation, creates a plan of action, and works side by side to resolve the issue. The coach does not have to be an expert in the client’s business. The client is the expert. The coach collaborates with the client to create a solution using the client’s knowledge and answers.

While people, and companies, will often choose a coach who has previous experience or expertise in the field that they work in, the coaching methodology does not require this. Consultants however, build their businesses around the knowledge they have gathered over time in the specific field in which they then offer consulting expertise. They are expected to provide advice, information and anecdotes about the field. The coach, on the other hand, does not have the answers and does not claim to have them. They have the questions that allow the client to find their own answers and clarify their own values.

Coaching and Mentoring

The term “mentoring” originates from Homer’s Odyssey. In the Odyssey, the character Mentor advises, supports and counsels Telemachus, Odysseus’ son as Telemachus prepares to take on the responsibilities of the family in his father’s absence. Mentor also advises Odysseus on how to search for his father. Telemachus thanks him for his help:

“Sir, I thank you for your kindness; you might be a father speaking to his own son, and I will not forget one word of what you say…”

The mentor is usually older and more experienced than the person being mentored. The mentor bestows their knowledge and wisdom onto the student. The student looks up to the mentor and seeks guidance and advice from the mentor. There are both formal and informal mentoring relationships.

In a business setting, mentoring is a formal relationship that is established with someone who is an expert in his or her field. Like consulting, mentoring involves passing on the benefit of a set of specific experiences. A coaching relationship, on the other hand, is a partnership whereby the coach walks side by side with the client. The coach supports the client in drawing on their own wisdom and following their inner guidance.

What is the difference between an Executive, Corporate or Business Coach?

The client is the distinguishing feature of the above coaches. Executive coaches work with executives, usually senior executives in medium to larger sized companies. They tend to be employed by either the executive themselves or the company. Either way they are most often brought in to coach on performance related or life/work/balance issues and they most often take the role of strategic partner to the client.

Corporate coaches also work with executives, usually in medium to larger sized companies. However they tend to be employed more often by the company and coach on company defined goals and targets. They also take the role of strategic partner to the client. Business coaches can work with small business owners, entrepreneurs and managers of business units in companies. Depending on the client their role could be anything from life/work/balance to specific business building goals (for example, to increase sales by 50%).

Generally speaking corporate, business and executive coaches will have expertise in their area of coaching. Business coaches will have run a small business; executive coaches have often been CEO’s or senior executives themselves. Although the coaching methodology does not demand this, there are two key reasons why it occurs:

  1. It helps to have an empathy or understanding of where the client is coming from, particularly in relation to culture and language. A corporate coach who has never heard of key performance indicators, or doesn’t know the elements of a strategic plan will be more challenged.
  2. The second and main reason is to do with marketing. There is a saying in the coaching profession that all coaching is life coaching after the first 3 sessions. You may have been brought in to double sales, but you will find that very quickly the sessions become about relationships, communication, family/work balance and doubling sales.

So it is possible that a powerful life coach would do a great job at coaching a senior executive. In fact it is probably what he or she needs. But from a marketing perspective CEO’s of companies like to employ people who have come from that culture. Likewise small business owners like to know that their coach understands what it is to run a small business.

Why companies hire coaches

The motivation for companies to hire coaches was revealed in a recent study conducted by corporate coaching firm, Manchester Inc. The study titled “Executive Coaching Yields Return On Investment Of Almost Six Times Its Cost” quantifies the impact of business coaching. The study included 100 executives, mostly from Fortune 1000 companies, who received coaching from Manchester.

Companies that provided coaching through Manchester to their executives realized improvements in productivity, quality, organizational strength, customer service, and shareholder value. They received fewer customer complaints, and were more likely to retain executives who had been coached. In addition, a company’s investment in providing coaching to its executives realized an average return on investment (ROI) of almost six times the cost of the coaching.

Half of the executives in the study held positions of vice president or higher (including division president, general manager, chief executive officer, chief financial officer, chief information officer, partner, principal, and practice leader). Almost six out of 10 (57%) executives who received coaching were ages 40 to 49, and one-third earned $200,000 or more per year.

The coaching programs that executives participated in were a mix of both change-oriented coaching — which is aimed at changing certain behaviours or skills — and growth-oriented coaching — which is aimed at sharpening performance. The coaching programs typically lasted from six months to one year.

The results of the study

Manchester’s coaching programs delivered an average return on investment of 5.7 times the initial investment in a typical executive coaching assignment — or a return of more than $100,000 according to executives who estimated the monetary value of the results achieved through coaching. Among the benefits to companies that provided coaching to executives were improvements in:

  • Productivity (reported by 53% of executives)
  • Quality (48%)
  • Organizational strength (48%)
  • Customer service (39%)
  • Reducing customer complaints (34%)
  • Retaining executives who received coaching (32%)
  • Cost reductions (23%)
  • Bottom-line profitability (22%)

Among the benefits to executives who received coaching were improved:

  • Working relationships with direct reports (reported by 77% of executives)
  • Working relationships with immediate supervisors (71%)
  • Teamwork (67%)
  • Working relationships with peers (63%)
  • Job satisfaction (61%)
  • Conflict reduction (52%)
  • Organizational commitment (44%)
  • Working relationships with clients (37%)

Why Coach?

Coaching is a unique, new and exciting field to become a part of. Coaching is based on a core set of skills and practices, which apply to all coaching situations, plus the opportunity to specialise in a niche area. The International Coaching Academy programs are based around this model: a solid grounding in the core skills of coaching plus the opportunity to explore a niche area through study and networking with others.


  1. If you have previously worked in a field that is related to coaching, which of the skills you applied in that field are applicable to coaching? Which are not applicable to coaching?
  2. When might you refer a client to a therapist or psychologist for counseling rather than continuing with coaching?How is coaching related to mentoring? How is it different?
  3. How could a business consultant alter their business to become a business coach? What are the key differences in the services they would provide?
  4. What is meant by the saying “all coaching is life coaching after the first three sessions”? Do you agree with this statement? Why? Why not?