If you are an executive coach or a personal coach, newly certified or veteran, you have probably come across enough material on coaching and the many nuances of coaching. So, to make things a little interesting, I thought of writing something a little different: What is not coaching?

For someone on the brink of becoming a coach, understanding what coaching is and what coaching is not is crucial to appreciate what they’re getting into and setting their expectations right from the get-go.

And if you are interested in learning about coaching simply because you are curious and wondering if hiring a coach for yourself is the right step for you, this will hopefully help clarify some doubts you may have.

So, with that, let’s begin.

1. Coaching does not provide all the answers

Coaching doesn’t answer every question raised by the coachee/client. The coach is not the coachee’s own personal Siri or Alexa to give answers to all the questions they bring forth. If anything, I believe the coach is more like an impertinent child who answers a question with more questions!

Coaching is a collaborative effort between a client and a coach, where a coach is not present to hand over solutions to the client’s problems; instead, they show the client the mirror and act as a sounding board to assist them in digging deeper and coming up with their answers that fit their personal and unique context.

2. Coaching is not an instant fix

Let’s say you’re running a marathon. When you are in the midst of a run, you may stop for a glass of glucose water to get an instant sugar fix that will give you an intense burst of energy to help you reach the finish line. Coaching is not that instant sugar fix – it is not a quick fix or solution to one’s problems.

If I were to continue on the same food analogy, I’d say coaching is perhaps more like a well-balanced meal plan that one must be mindful about and consistent & disciplined with over a long period to see results.

Coaching is reflective in its method. Learnings tend to come in the longer run, and the ‘aha!’ moments aren’t necessarily quite as dramatic as one may expect. It is more subtle, and the client has to do substantial work to get there.

3. Coaching is not the solution to each problem of the client

There may be issues that are beyond the purview of a coach. For instance, a client may be struggling with their mental health and may come to their executive coach expecting them to address the same. The client must understand that while the coach is there to guide them in many ways, the client needs to seek the right kind of support for these issues – a counsellor or therapist, in this case.

So, unless the coach is also a practising therapist, they are not going to be able to help their client in such circumstances and should convey it so.

And this is not true only for things as big as mental health – it stands true even for the more mundane, everyday things. If you, for instance, are a relationship coach, and your client comes to you with a health dilemma, you can politely remind the client about the scope of your partnership and recommend them to seek an expert’s opinion on the particular matter.

4. A coach is not a friend

Contestants have a lifeline option to ‘Phone a Friend’ in the ‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” show.   The contestant could seek the help of a friend to provide the correct answer. Certain movies portray a character dialling their personal coach/therapist, and the coach/therapist is available, ready to give them the perfect solution.

While a coach-coachee relationship is an equal partnership, the coach is not a friend, even if they are friendly.  The coach and coachee should respect certain boundaries and limitations in the relationship.

The coach will not have immediate answers to all questions. The coaching process is like peeling an onion. It begins with scratching the surface, and in the process of gradual discovery (peeling) over subsequent sessions, the issues are addressed in depth.

5. Coaching is not formulaic

There is no set process for coaching. There is no formula wherein you do a sequence of things, and you can expect to get a specific result. Coaching is a process of gradual discovery where a coach understands where the client is and a general sense of where they would like to go.

But the path to that destination is not linear; there may be pauses along the journey, even a bit of meandering – sometimes even some backtracking.

In the process of coaching, a skilful coach will be able to get the client from their point A (current reality) to their point B (desired reality), but it may take some twists and turns (and even U-turns!) to get there.

6. Coaching is not hierarchical in nature

Anybody can coach anybody! While many coaches have years of corporate experience that they bring to the table to add to their coaching credentials, these days, many younger individuals are choosing to become coaches. Age or experience, while important, is not a sufficient condition to be a coach.

A young 25-year-old coach with experience in successfully launching their start-up can very quickly coach a 50-something-year-old who has only worked as part of more prominent, long-standing organisations and now needs guidance to start a new company.

7. Coaching is non-transferable across businesses & individuals

If a coach were to go into a public sector organisation and speak about non-hierarchical structures, it would be futile as the basic structure of a public sector organisation is hierarchical. So, coaching that works in the private sector cannot be replicated and expected to work in the public sector, as the contexts of those two companies are entirely different.

Coaching is specific to the context in which the coaching happens – the same nuances and strategies cannot work for two individuals or organisations. What works here will not work there. Of course, if you have a particular methodology that works for a specific kind of business or individual, you don’t need to change the entire framework. Yet still, the process cannot and should not be replicated as is for everyone.


If you are thinking of getting certified to become a coach, I hope this article was able to provide some insights to you as to what a coach does and does not do! If you are in a position where you are contemplating hiring a coach for yourself or your organisation and are wondering if it’s the right time to do so, please do keep in mind the seven points discussed in this article.

About our guest blogger

Venkat (https://www.linkedin.com/in/g-venkatraghavan/) is a practising Executive Coach and co-founded Simply. Coach (https://simply.coach/), a web-based Coaching Management Platform company. Earlier, he was a Partner & Vice President at IBM, with a track record of successful business outcomes engagements leveraging technology and change management. Venkat is a certified Marshall Goldsmith Coach for leaders and teams.