INsight/ Why Coaching Works


Ubud, 12 July 2017 — Coaching is now used by people around the world to lead a change in themselves, their business, and their world. Why has it taken off so strongly?

The personal coaching phenomenon burst onto the global corporate scene in the mid-1990s and has grown rapidly since then. After the establishment of the International Coach Federation in 1995 and the International Association of Coaching in 2003, coaching became recognized as a profession that extends far beyond sports.

Where did it come from?

Researcher Dr. Vikki Brock, who published her PhD dissertation in 2008 on the roots and emergence of coaching, describes how it has grown from a number of disciplines and traditions, among which philosophy, psychology, organizational development, training, consulting, management, sports coaching, leadership, human resources, mentoring, and the human potential movement.

Dr. Irene Stein, a researcher on coaching at the School of Organizational Leadership of the University of the Rockies, shared similar findings in 2005, when she drew linkages to the fields of education, communication studies, psychotherapy, social systems theory, management, leadership, adult development, the self-help movement and the holistic movement. See her diagram below.

So what is coaching and how is it different?

The International Coach Federation (ICF) defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” ICF’s stated vision is to advance the art, science, and practice of professional coaching.


The practice of coaching has defied attempts for accurate descriptions. It is different from training, facilitation, mentoring and counseling, even if some of its practices are also used in those helping modes.

It seems to me that coaching emerged as a phenomenon and a profession when the time was ripe for it. I have no doubt that it will continue to evolve to meet the needs of our present-day society.

Now let’s turn to the question of why it has taken off so strongly.

From my own experience, after I took up coaching ten years ago in 2007, I would single out three reasons.

1. Coaching is collaborative

As the ICF definition points out, coaching is a partnership between the coach and the coachee. It is collaborative.

Many coaches take as a principle that the coachee is already complete—possessing all that is needed to deliver on the desired goals and potential. What is needed is to guide the coachee through uncertainty and confusion to a clarity of purpose, alignment of resources, and commitment to their chosen direction.

The coach uses various techniques to help the coachee in bringing out that potential. We can think of the coaching partnership as sculpting a beautiful work of art that emerges from a block of marble. At the start, the block of stone looks quite similar to other blocks of stone on the outside, yet each of them carries the potential of a masterpiece.

What is helpful about the collaborative nature of the coaching relationship is that it doesn’t require the coach to judge the coachee and his/her problem and challenges in any way. The coach can, therefore, allow the coachee to take the driver's seat in the relationship right from the start.

This is especially helpful in our increasingly diverse and complex world, where being directive in helping—which often shows up as holding strong views, giving advice and being judgmental—carries the risk of missing out on exploring other important dimensions of the coachee’s personal growth, the situation at hand, and the opportunities for moving forward.

2.    Coaching is convenient

Taking full benefit from today’s multitude of technologies to connect people, most one-to-one coaching conversations are nowadays done on the phone, Skype, or Zoom, complemented by written exchanges in private spaces such as CoachingCloud, that are designed specifically for coaching.

This feels odd to many older people who grew up thinking that high-quality conversations between people can only take place during in-person meetings. With technology, however, the opportunities for such quality meetings have simply multiplied. Meanwhile, research has shown that online coaching can be equally or more effective than coaching in-person.  

Why is this so?

Coaching works best when a safe space is created where the coachee can open up and get out of their comfort zone while still feeling safe and secure. The privacy of having the coaching conversation from a quiet and comfortable space helps to make this possible.

For those of us who live in large cities, online coaching sure beats the hours spent in traffic getting from one place to another. And it effectively takes out the distance factor when coach and coachee are even farther away from each other, in other provinces, countries or even continents.

Online coaching offers an effective and efficient way to create a powerful coaching relationship that will deliver the desired results. I have personally experienced this over and over, both as a coach and as a coachee.

3.    Coaching is confidential

This, in my experience, is the most powerful of the three reasons why coaching has taken off so strongly.

In our world today, it is truly a luxury to have someone listen to you for a longer time with full attention, without judgment and advice, while knowing that what you discuss together will remain confidential between the coachee and the coach.

Confidentiality is the cornerstone of coaching. It is the key that opens the door to bringing out the extraordinary potential in people, by creating a safe space where problems, challenges, and opportunities can be explored with enthusiasm and without fear.

Remember your conversations with your doctor? Those are confidential also. And they are limited to your health and the issues that led you to seek medical advice.

A coaching conversation lasts much longer than the average talk with your doctor. Usually, coaching sessions take from 45 minutes to more than an hour. Imagine the potential that such a private, confidential one-to-one conversation can unlock!


From the past ten years, I cannot remember having a single coaching conversation where I was not surprised by what the coachee brought up after we had agreed on confidentiality.

Confidentiality makes it possible to share experiences and views that are not shared with supervisors at work, or with friends or life partners at home. The coaching conversation is a truly unique space for the kind of thought-provoking and creative process that is envisioned in ICF’s definition of coaching.

The safe space created by confidentiality allows the coachee to diverge and play with (wild) ideas to discover more opportunities—which can be confusing—before converging to get clarity on a course of action, with leadership, commitment, and accountability…and a smiling coach.

Is it the right time for you to invest in coaching? You can find some possible answers to that question in my post Are You Coachable?

Coaching is like turning the key to open a door inside you that was closed until now. The relationship between coach and coachee is one of the most powerful partnerships you can create to help you move forward in your life and work.

My view is that coaching has taken off strongly around the world in the past 20 years because it is collaborative, convenient and confidential.

Feel free to shoot me an email if you have a question.

Coaching is like turning the key to open a door inside you that was closed until now.
— Coach Wouter