What is coaching?

What do you say when you KNOW what something is but can’t easily describe it?  We all know what education is but when you go to define it, things become complicated. Professionals in charge of coaching in organisations face this problem daily.  So do executives being coached and coaches… 

On that note, welcome to the first in our new series of evidence-based monthly coaching dialogues exploring coaching in organisations. This month we examine the ways in which we understand and describe executive coaching for others and ourselves.

Executive coaching occurs in most organisations but describing what it is that an executive coach does when working with their clients and what a coachee might expect to happen in an executive coaching session is not straight forward. What is it that we usually say? And, from where do we draw our responses?

In December of last year, WhyteCo Coaching guild members spent their Summer Workshop exploring the findings in Julie-Anne Tooth’s hot-off-the-press PhD study. By understanding more about what goes on within coaching assignments we should be better able to explain what it is.

We asked ourselves how we

(1) define executive coaching in marketing brochures and proposals for clients

(2) describe executive coaching based on our experience of what it is like for our coachees and us

While the questions may look similar, the answers were not.

In response to Question 1, we used language linked to selling and marketing coaching as a service. We talked mostly about the process and outcomes. For example: “working together to achieve behavioural change within a specified time frame”.

Question 2, prompted us to reflect deeply on our experience of executive coaching. We identified  the co-created relationship with the coachee as the core. This was a key finding of Tooth’s (2014) research, conducted with both coachees and coaches.

This suggests evidence-based descriptions of executive coaching should emphasise this co-created relationship as the central element in executive coaching and highlight the importance of this for enabling reflection and learning to occur.

How do you currently describe executive coaching to others? How much is the coaching relationship a feature in your descriptions?

Please contribute to the discussion and let us know what you think of our new bulletin. http://au.linkedin.com/in/annwhyte1

Next month we investigate further the experience of the coach and coachee relationship. Also look out for WhyteCo Coaching Autumn Research Bulletin Testing best practice in delivering 360 feedback.


Tooth, Julie-Anne. (2014). Experiencing executive coaching. Saarbrucken, Germany: Scholars Press.