In this 4-part special series, Noel Posus provides a great overview of Life Coaching including: WHEN it started; the development of techniques and skills; HOW and WHY it works.


Life Coaching first appeared in the personal and professional development market in 1980, with Thomas Leonard being the first practitioner to call himself a Life Coach.  Since then, coaching has spread around the world, and tens of thousands of coaches of various types offer a wide variety of specialist coaching services.

Coaching was born from a number of fields of research and industries including humanistic psychology, counselling, adult education, organisational development and corporate training, consulting, mentoring, sports coaching and the rise of the human potential movement of the 1960′s.  The “toolkit” used by today’s coaches is made up of information, research, models and strategies which have been developed from these various other professional services for over seventy years.

The term “coaching” was first coined in 1926, and the first published paper on the subject was published in 1937, with over 300 academic papers produced since then.  The notion that life coaching is an “American fad” can easily be disputed when we explore the number of citations of clinical study and evidence within the scientific and academic communities.

Adding to that, thousands of articles have been produced for publication in journals and magazines for leadership, management, healthcare, sports, the arts, parenting, education and of course in publications, radio and television for the general public.

Currently, the coaching industry is benefiting from the new fields of coaching psychology and positive psychology, where clients are worked with using theoretically grounded and scientifically validated techniques to help clients reach goals in their personal and professional lives. This approach is called evidence based, and is the foundation for the next phase of growth in the coaching industry.

The research and the application of the findings are focused on human change and the enhancement of performance and wellbeing.

Coaches can provide assistance across a number of general areas, such as:

  • Identifying goals and how to achieve them
  • Enhancing self-leadership and leadership of others
  • Improving career growth
  • Changing habits related to healthy living
  • Increasing sense of self-worth and confidence, in order to achieve their objectives
  • Establishing, growing and maintaining successful relationships
  • Learning new skills from goal-achievement through to communication
  • Overcoming barriers, including self-limiting thinking and habits
  • Raising self awareness in order to make more confident and positive choices

There are also a large number of highly-specialised coaching practitioners in the areas of:

  • Health & Wellness
  • Education
  • Relationships
  • Career
  • Spirituality
  • Social, Community and Altruism
  • Finance and Wealth

There are as many different “styles” of coaching as there are individuals to assist.  This is because the coach is focused on the needs of the client, what they want to achieve, how they learn best, how they may need support and/or challenge, and what tools and strategies may be the most effective for the client.  The coach adapts to the needs of the individual, versus from their own preferred style of coaching.

This means that coaching is nearly always customised to the unique situation and needs at any given time.

However, there are also varying definitions in the academic, coaching practitioner and general public perspectives, of what coaching is.  These definitions can be significantly different, and sometimes even in conflict with each other. 

Definitions of Coaching

One simple way of defining coaching is that the coach works with a client to assist them raise awareness, make decisions and modify behaviour or take action. The client sets the agenda of what they want to achieve, and the coach facilitates a process by which the client can achieve their desired outcome.

The coach doesn’t provide the solution, give instructions or direct the client on a course of action to take. Instead, the coach uses a number of tools and strategies to achieve the following:

  • Clarifying objectives in a specific, measurable, achievable, relevant way including time frames for the goal
  • Identifying the inspiration and/or motivation behind the objective
  • Defining the client’s core values, or in other words, what’s most important to them and therefore is the basis for decision making
  • Exploring, and sometimes challenging the beliefs, attitudes and choices of a client
  • Inventorying the strengths, skills, potential and opportunities
  • Identifying potential obstacles and limitations and co-designing solutions for them, before and/or as they occur
  • Reframing, or re-designing, self-limiting belief systems into positive, realistic and relevant new models of thinking
  • Teaching and sharing personal and professional development information, tools, techniques and strategies and working through various application options relevant to the client
  • Creating an action plan for goal achievement
  • Celebrating accomplishments, both the milestone moments as well as the end result
  • Supporting the individual throughout the process in a non-judgemental, unbiased and solution focused approach
  • Encouraging the client to acknowledge their achievements and skills and inspire them to continue their development journey

Below are some more useful definitions of coaching along with a few explanations and further clarification.

“Coaches work with individuals and groups to achieve their desired outcomes.  We do this through a combination of sophisticated training, expanding awareness and designing supportive environments which inspire growth.” Dave Buck, CEO – Coachville

This is a very important definition of coaching as it breaks down previously upheld beliefs that coaches only ask a series of questions to help the client achieve their own outcomes.  Although this questioning approach is very much a part of coaching, coaches typically access many more tools in the process.

For example, coaches provide training to the client in a number of areas as may be relevant to the client’s need, such as how to set and achieve goals, how to change habits of thinking or behaviour, and time management skills (more appropriately called “schedule choice management”).

Additionally, the coach often assists the client to explore all parts of their life and not just the environment where their goal is focused on.  For example, if a client presents with some rough goals around career, it may also be appropriate to explore complementary environments of knowledge, family, social or financial.

There are ten core environments that life coaches explore with clients to ensure all environments are supporting the client, as much as reasonable and realistic for them to do so.  These environments are:

  • Health – mental, physical and emotional
  • Knowledge and Learning
  • Social
  • Financial
  • Family
  • Partner
  • The Partner Within – or the relationship with oneself
  • Spirituality (also considered a component of health)
  • Career and/or Business
  • Giving to Others
  • Giving to Self (attending to one’s own needs versus simply the relationship with oneself)

Another definition is:

“Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance.  It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” Timothy Gallwey, Author of The Inner Game series of books

Gallwey’s definition comes from his background in sports coaching which he used to develop his “inner game” concept across numerous fields from sport to music to the workplace.  His reference to performance is a key component of how coaching is defined today.

Coaching is predominately thought of as a model for increasing or enhancing performance, whereas counselling is often perceived as being about progress.  To be clear, coaching is also about progress, but in most cases progress toward performance achievement objectives.

The sporting coach analogy is often one of the best ways of describing the frameworks coaches operate from – to drive maximum performance of an individual in the areas they want to perform highly in.

Imagine how a sports coach trains, challenges, motivates and inspires an athlete or a team.  The players are responsible for their own performance and the coach trains, challenges, motivates, inspires and celebrates their achievements with them – and all along encouraging them to develop these same skills for themselves.

Types of Coaching

There are a number of major areas of coaching.  Here are some brief descriptions.

Life Coaching: The generalist Life Coach assists people in achieving objectives and greater satisfaction in all areas of their life, including work/life balance.  All forms of coaching at one point or another include a generalist life coach approach. 

Life Cycle Coaching: A Life Cycle Coach assists people going through major transitions in life, ranging from teenagers growing into young adults, university students entering the job market, new relationships, ending relationships (including divorce), major life redesigns (like a sea or tree change) and retirement. There are many transitions that one might go through and these coaches specialise in navigating those changes.

Career Coaching: A Career Coach focuses works almost exclusively with individuals who are either considering or going through a career transition of some sort. This could include developing the confidence required for interviewing, identifying new career directions, improving performance to become more attractive for promotion opportunities, working through the special needs of a relocation or transfer, returning to the workforce after an extended leave, and so on. Career Coaches often use assessment and profiling tools to assist their clients.

Health & Wellness Coaching: As health and wellness management is one of the biggest reasons why an individual may seek out a coach, it is also one of the biggest specialty areas within the coaching industry. There are many different sub-types of Health and Wellness Coaches, and in most cases they work as part of an overall “Wellness Team” with their clients. 

The team may also include the client’s doctor, personal trainer, nutritionist, naturopath and other wellness specialists. In this team environment, the coach often focuses on identifying the future-focused goals of the individual and supports them in leading their own wellness team.

Business Coaching: Business Coaches have a specialist understanding of how business operates and how business can achieve their objectives through successful self and team leadership. The coach often works with the business owners to get clear on the objectives, and coaches them around how best to lead their team to achieve the results. 

Many of these businesses are small to medium businesses where coaching the leaders becomes a combination of life coaching for them, and business coaching for the business.

Workplace Coaching: A workplace coach, or team of coaches, work with organisations, or teams within an organisation, to achieve very specific business outcomes. In most cases, the process begins with a thorough exploration of the scope of work, desired objectives and potential strategies for achievement. 

Then a customised programme is designed and the coaches work specifically within that programme, coaching all members of the team. There are many variations in this field and typically requires extensive experience in coaching programme design.

Executive Coaching: This field of coaching has become one of the most successful sub-sections of the industry in the past decade.  Executive Coaching is almost entirely focused on leadership skills. The coach works with the leader on identifying their current leadership skills and strengths, works through solutions for areas not yet a core strength, and helps the client set and achieve objectives in both self-leadership and leadership of others.

In some cases, the Executive Coach may also work with the leader on designing and implementing a succession plan, so that the leader is freed up to pursue their next leadership challenge or objective.
There are many other specialty types of coaching, such as:

  • Spirituality Coaching
  • Parenting Coaching
  • Coaching For Teens
  • Coaching for the Non-Profit Sector
  • Corporate Social Responsibility Coaching
  • Recovery Coaching for those who’ve recently finished a recovery programme
  • Coaching for those going through a legal matter, to support them emotionally through the process

In all of these areas, the coach either has a specialist background in the area, including the appropriate credentials and qualifications, or they work as part of an overall team of other specialists.

For example, in Recovery Coaching, the coach works with qualified recovery specialists, counsellors and medical professionals in alcohol, drug and other addiction areas, and helps the clients establish long term goals to get on with the rest of their life once the initial recovery intervention process has helped the client get to a stage where long-term goals can realistically be explored. It is a team approach, and the coach is never replacing, or performing the services, of the qualified recovery practitioner.

For any type of coaching, it may be important for the client to interview their coach to truly understand their areas of expertise, credentials and qualifications. Additionally, it may be helpful to explore how working with the coach can be part of an overall team approach. For example, if the client’s name is Claire, the coach could be assisting her to create “Claire’s Team” which supports her in all of her objectives and special need areas.

About the Author:

This article is an excerpt from the paper Understanding Life Coaching written by Noel Posus, Master Coach and Director of, reprinted here with his permission. Noel is also the current Coach of the Year awarded by the Australian New Zealand Institute of Coaching. He is also a Master Coach and instructor with the Life Coaching Institute.