March 15 , 2017 /


My background includes a type of psychotherapy that resulted in a practice of educating, counseling, mentoring and consulting over some 43 years. Thus my work was based on client-centered change that I began in the early seventies, much of it based on Rogers, Maslow and Perls. One thing that I learned was that regardless of the orientation or training, the three variables that accounted for positive change in an individual or an organization were empathy, genuineness and warmth from the practitioner and I believe that extends to therapist, counselor, consultant, mentor, coach or leader. Popular success often comes by making the product or service more available, easily attainable and desirable. Witness Starbucks, a marketing bonanza. Whether or not that’s a good thing you can decide for yourself. I doubt the intrinsic value of a $10 cup of coffee regardless of flavor.

For a succinct history of coaching the following link outlines the beginnings and the evolution of coaching over some eighty plus years. You can easily see how coaching grew out of earlier concepts and practices:

As an historical artifact, I do not call myself a coach, although I had a stint as an assistant football coach for a few years at a prep school in New England. And I played on several winning sports teams that were very well-coached. A coach, by definition, provides the necessary training and skills to both individuals and teams so they can improve their “game” and “play” to their highest potential. While that definition may seem simplistic, it applies not only to athletics but also to one’s professional or personal life which is one reason it was easy for the executive and personal coaching profession to pick it up and run with it. Stop here with that analogy!

By making coaching desirable and perhaps less onerous than therapy, counseling, consulting or mentoring, coaching has become enormously popular. Therapy and counseling also suggest that there is a need that deserves attention, or at the least, changed for the better.  Coaching is in that same category and I do not call it a softer approach because it is also real work and can have a positive impact on people and organizations.

If you combine all the definitions of coaching they boil down to the one major component and that one defining variable is change. That, as we know, can be a complex and challenging process. It is much easier if positive change is desired and the motivation to change is firmly in place. That is not to say that all will be smooth sailing because as you get to the heart of the matter there are bound to be some unanticipated bumps in the road. And, since change is inevitable, why not plan for it as best you can?

How coaching is distinct from other service professions is outlined below among a list of FAQ’s from the International Federation of Coaching. I think it’s a stretch to manufacture the differences as delineated in the third question among the eleven questions posted here. In most psychotherapy practices the client also initiates the contact so coaching is not distinct in that regard.  Coaching may not be as distinctive as many believe it to be although I understand the desire to create a separate and different application.

With regard to consulting and mentoring I have a similar response. I find the practices of psychotherapy, coaching, counseling, consulting and mentoring more similar than different although there are some minor distinctions among them and one approach doesn’t work for everyone. The good part is that all are intended to help people remove obstacles and enjoy a positive, productive and fulfilling life. When people begin to draw dividing lines within a given discipline the separation is most often personal, political or economic and has little to do with substance. I wondered if it is March Madness that inspired me to publish this post?   I know that some of the best coached teams will win and some will lose. It’s how the game is played and who makes fewer mistakes that will determine the final four.

Comments (2)

  1. Love the simplicity of your coach definition: ” A coach, by definition, provides the necessary training and skills to both individuals and teams so they can improve their “game” and “play” to their highest potential”.

    Although I’m a certified coach with ICF for 7 years (with the beautiful letters PCC at the end of my name) and with more than 3 years of training in leadership and coaching, I am currently questioning the word “coaching” which is so overused. Questionning ICF about the fact that they never succeeded with all its years in ensuring that coaching is a recognized profession (such as psychologists). I personally consider Coaching as a false profession, and especially the coaching who is over-exploited at the level of the coach coaching other coaches about everything: sales, marketing, branding, nutrition, sport, magic …

    So, to make a long story short, professionally speaking, I have to focus on blending all my professional skills (which include much more than coaching and leadership) to offer my best version to my clients in order they “can improve their “game” and “play” their highest potential”” and let go about the fact that coaching now irritates me because the social media space is polluted by coaches coaching coaches about everything and nothing. Gracias for this powerful post Gary!

    1. Wow! Christine, I think many of us questioned our professional certifying associations at times for different reasons depending upon the association. However, I think “coaching” is recognized by many people as a legitimate profession and perhaps it’s the nomenclature that is the issue which I tried to suggest in the post. In any professional practice there are those who do not adhere to the high standards that you and others do to maintain your integrity, both personally and professionally. There seem to be many times when we, perhaps inadvertently, makes things much more complicated than we need to thus confusing and confounding those we are trying to serve. Credentials mean different things to different people.
      There are many of my colleagues who love using the initials or degrees after their name as some kind of verification of their validity. If you’re good, you’re good and initials might help others get started but they won’t sustain the practitioner if he or she is not good. If I use Gary R. Gruber, BA, MDiv, MS, Ph.D. after my name what does it show? Too many years in school, that’s what. I like this statement, “The proof is in the pudding.” Keep up your good work and you will be known by your good work not by ICF although use it if it helps.

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