What coaching is not? — Centre for Coaching Switzerland

What coaching is not?

Coaching has become a clichéd word in social and management practice. It functions as an umbrella phrase that is used to describe processes as dissimilar as managing the strategy and implementation of the Saturday game-plan of sporting teams to the casual words of advice offered in the corridor to a colleague struggling with some dilemma.

In reality, coaching has become a strongly applied and researched process in the corporate context, with a track-record of twenty years in more developed economies. It has also developed a range of exponents, theories, and schools that say and mean very different things when they use the term. Some exploration here is necessary to frame which stance this article departs from.

All too often the term is used as a bucket to embrace any kind of advice given in a friendly and constructive manner. This damages coaching and leaves people with the illusion that simply by changing their tone of voice and their manner, things once seen as giving suggestions, answers, input and perspective, and even manipulation are now coaching.

A coach is absolutely not:

  • Simply an accountability partner who supports someone to reach their goals

  • A disciplinarian who changes someone’s unwanted actions

  • A cheerleader who supports from the side

  • A devil’s advocate who asks different questions or takes an alternative point of view,
    simply for the point of debate

There are terms already for these roles – inspector, teacher, supporter, and sounding board. Why bother using the obsolete term of coach to rename existing roles played very necessarily and successfully in organizations and life? To be crass, if you want solutions – call a consultant; if you want answers – seek out a sage; and if you are desperate for advice – speak to a minister.

“Coaching in Leadership Development”


Janine Ahlers

Academic Director of Centre for Coaching
Senior Lecturer at the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business
New Ventures West Senior Faculty Member


Craig O’Flaherty
Director – Centre for Coaching