A Most Misunderstood Art: Life Coaching.

A screenshot of the text that really ticked me off the other week


This tweet by Rebecca Sloane garnered so many responses last week. And it really ticked me off. It said, “I don’t want a 25 year old life coach. I want a 93 year old to tell me the best way to live my life.”  It was sassy and seemed sensible at first sight, on the surface, but I just couldn’t shake it off or let it go scot-free. I’ll tell you why. To be clear, I’m going after the thought; not the person. “Ideas have consequences,” you know.



In the first place, with humility anyone can learn from anyone. Everyone can learn something from anyone. The older can learn from the younger, atheists from people of faith (and vice versa), Christians from Muslims (and vice versa), CEO from new hire etc. This was actually better put by Bill Hybels during one of his Global Leadership Summits I attended: “Armed with enough humility, leaders can learn from anyone.” We can learn from children. Heck, we can even learn from flora and fauna! The greatest teacher that ever lived would place a little child in front of his class and say, “unless you change and become like children…”  The good book says, “go and learn from the ant.” With enough humility, everyone can learn something from anyone and anything. Point made.

More substantively, this statement of Rebecca’s is a gross misunderstanding of coaching and as a certified professional coach I would like to set the record straight.



Apart from a number of group coaching sessions I run, I am personally dedicated to about a dozen one-on-one coachees, mainly C-level executives ranging from a CEO in agribusiness to deputy CEOs in mining and banking. How does a trained medical doctor get to coach these leaders in such different fields? Meanwhile, some of my coachees are much more advanced in age than me as well. What do I have to offer them then?

Coaching is an inspiring and empowering process that utilizes cogent questions to draw out and clarify thoughts and desires and facilitates a path and framework for their successful implementation for the growth, success and significance of the coachee. As my friend Barbara Wainright, a certified professional coach and trainer of coaches herself, puts it, “Coaching is about empowering your client by asking questions, facilitating strategic planning and monitoring tactical execution.” That is the number one tool of a coach: questions. In fact, with their penchant for asking question upon question, children would probably make much better coaches than adults with a little training and guidance! Yes, that’s how come a 25-year old can coach the writer of the tweet and anyone else twice or thrice their age.

I know I’ve hit a spot whenever a coachee goes, “good question.” The questions a coach asks bring clarity to one’s thoughts and desires, the coaching process inspires coachees to want to be the best versions of themselves they dream of and provides a framework of accountability to make their own word come true. One of my favourite preambles I love to hear from coaching clients is, “I’m beginning to realize…”

Successful life coaching isn’t about the coach–whether they are a 25-year old novice or a 93-year old veteran. It isn’t about what the coach knows, what they’ve accomplished, or even what they are doing in life. It is all about the client.

In fact, as Ms. Wainright reiterates, “coaching is about empowering your clients to decide for themselves what their goals are. It’s about Socratic Questioning and attentive listening. Coaching is about understanding your client’s needs, goals, desires and life purpose. Coaches help their clients to identify and clearly articulate their goals and dreams. Coaches help their clients to remain accountable and help strategize the action steps required to achieve their objectives.”



I have been wanting to make these distinctions between coaching, counselling and consulting clear for quite a while as even prospective clients sign up for coaching with me expecting a masterclass or therapy session of sorts. Ms. Sloane’s tweet was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. As a student of Dr. Robert J. Clinton’s work at Fuller Seminary, I am of the opinion that coaching, counselling, and consulting are all types of mentoring (see an earlier blog here). Counselling, consulting and coaching have at least one thing in common: they all require great listening skills.


Coaching is one of at least nine types of mentoring relationships you need


However, counselling is about helping your client by listening and offering advice and sharing coping skills. Consulting is about having all the answers and solutions to help your client with a specific task (hopefully after listening well). There is some form of mentoring (I’m not sure what to call it, perhaps ‘combo-mentoring’?) that combines coaching, counselling and consulting where the mentor empowers the mentee by asking questions, sharing valuable experiences, giving advice for growth and solutions for success. Strictly speaking, that isn’t life coaching in the purest sense of the art.

As may be obvious to you by now, counselling, consulting, and this combo-mentoring all require one to be significantly knowledgeable about the issues being addressed. That would make Rebecca Sloane’s tweet understandable but coaching on the other hand, requires the ability to ask contemplative questions, listen incarnationally, and ask even more profound follow-up questions till the client finds their own answers and makes their own commitments. Consequently, the coach doesn’t need to even know about the client’s field or have experience in the area of life they want to be coached in to help them. With the others, the professional is the driver; with coaching the client is.



So dear Rebecca, a life coach doesn’t tell you anything, let alone how best to live your life. There are over 50 coaching niches–from life coaching to executive coaching to career coaching. None of them tell you how to live your best life but they will set the table for you and provide a menu of questions for you to figure out what your life meal should comprise of. For sure, find a 93-year old counsellor, consultant or combo-mentor to tell you how best to do life but if it is a coach you’re really looking for, even a 25-year old novice would do. It is about their questions; not their answers. It’s about you; not them.



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