Misconceptions of Leadership Coaching

Written by Dr. Kelly Whelan

Dr. Whelan is the Founder and CEO of Belem LLC. She specializes in partnering, empowering, and positioning executive leaders and teams for success by helping them design strategies that create stakeholder impact.

April 17, 2020


A quick Google search of “leadership coaching” captures an overwhelming 14,700,000 results!

With all that information, it amazes me how misunderstood coaching truly is.

Have you or someone you know experienced the incredible results that can be achieved from this practice? Or, is coaching still a mystery to you and your organization?

Although you may have heard of “coaching” and categorized the practice as a 21st century leader development buzzword, what you don’t know may hinder your coaching experience.


The Origins of Coaching

Diane Wiater, Ph.D., Professor at Regent University and CEO of Waiter Consulting Group, LLC, explains,


“coaching is birthed through psychology and counseling and organizational behavior and performance improvement.” 


She also suggests coaching falls into the “helps professions and behavior change sciences.” These statements widen and deepen the platform for the discussion of coaching as a practice.

Coaching is the offspring of psychology, specifically positive psychology, and the Human Potential Movement (HPM).  Both became popular in the 1960s and 1970s.  These practices went beyond social reality, the attitudes, beliefs, and opinions of a particular group, society, or members, and discovered self-fulfillment through self-actualization. 

The positive psychology movement made way for life coaching in the United States.

Psychology also brought relevance to the field of leadership and the organization providing insight into human performance and operation.

Positive psychology and its focus on well-being and fulfillment are central to the human condition in and outside the organization.  Examples of the human condition include distress and dysfunction, but also human strength and virtues.

Building strength within the client does not mean positive psychology discounts the human experience where loss, distress, suffering, and illness may lie.  Instead, a connection is made to well-being, fulfillment, and health. Through the positive psychology lens, the critical focus is not on weakness, as with most therapy, but strength.  Strength leads to resilience, and resilience leads to sustainability.


What Coaching Is & Isn’t

In its purist form, coaching is not consulting, therapy, mentoring, or discipling.  Instead, professional coaching is an incredibly effective tool for leaders looking to improve and maximize their capabilities for today’s opportunities and tomorrow’s growing challenges. Coaching is not a long-term commitment, but can and should be provided on an as-needed basis.

This may come as a shock…


Coaching is first and foremost, not telling people what to do! 


When I hear someone using the word coach in the sense of a sports coach, it conjures up images of someone yelling from the sidelines rather than communicating through meaningful conversation. As a coach, I am a partner to the client.  I walk beside the client and engage in thoughtful conversations around a specific focus chosen by the client.

In a coaching role, the coach is not responsible for setting the agenda or goals, nor responsible for the outcome.


While a coach encourages hope, optimism, responsibility, courage, and forgiveness, it is the client who builds their future possibilities. 


Progress is dependent on the ability of the client to recognize their own strengths and weaknesses, and also see how their behavior impacts their role as a leader.

Some may see the coach as the change agent.  However, change comes from the client.  As the client takes responsibility for change, action begins.


The coach is the conduit that enables the client, positioning them toward change and fulfillment of their own agenda and the goals they themselves set.


Roles That Are Mistaken For Coaching

For years, professional coaching has been misunderstood. Many times because of its name, and other times for lack of education around the practice. Below are roles that are often mistaken for coaching:


Some may argue coaching is discipleship.  Although Christian coaching may lead to a stronger spiritual walk with Jesus, the focus of coaching is not spiritual development through discipleship.  In coaching, growth comes from drawing out the gifts the client has been given to attain a goal that is created.  The main goal of Christian discipleship is to grow other disciples. The Discipler teaches the discipled.  The discipled learn to live a Christ-centered life.


A coach is not a counselor or therapist. Although the history of coaching includes positive psychology, and many assessments that a coach offers to clients have foundations in psychology, your coach is not your counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.  If a client comes to a coach for an issue that has deeper roots and a fuller exploration of the past is needed, a coach will refer the client to a more suitable method of helps delivery.


When a coach works with an organization, she or he may also work as a consultant.  This relationship occurs when the coach helps leaders identify key business challenges and connects the benefits of coaching to those challenges.

When a coach puts on a consulting hat the distinction should be made to the client or organization during the conversation.  By doing this, the client becomes aware of when the coach is coaching and when she or he is not.  Putting down the consulting hat and picking up the coaching cap allows the client to be built up.  Here, the client steps into the growth process, which consists of thinking and problem solving.  The consultant prescribes solutions based on their expertise and opinions.


A mentor-protégé relationship is one of teaching by example, but also through knowledge.  In the past, the mentor was thought to be one who was older than the protégé. However, in an age where technology has overtaken much of the business world, a mentor may actually be a younger, more experienced individual.  The mentoring relationship is based on creating a protégé to become more like the mentor.  Change comes in the form of knowledge transfer, leading by example, and guiding the protégé toward professional growth.

Are you ready to experience professional coaching? The Belem team is here to serve you and your organization.

Be sure to tune in to our podcast CONVERSATIONS For Leaders & Teams, or on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or your favorite listening platform!

Click here to purchase your copy of Leadership Excellence By Design: Strategies For Sustainability & Strength on Amazon!Leadership By Design. Book by Dr. Kelly Whelan.

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