Thursday, September 6, 2012

Webster defines life coaching and gets it wrong

Posted on Thursday, September 06, 2012 by International Coach Federation

Last month, the Merriam-Webster Dictionary proffered their definition of a Life Coach. While it’s gratifying to have our profession officially recognized, the critical noun used to define it is woefully inaccurate.

The Webster Dictionary now defines a Life Coach as: (noun) an advisor who helps people make decisions, set and reach goals, or deal with problems.

So what’s the concern? It’s that little word, “advisor.”

Professionally trained coaches rarely, if ever, play the role of advice-giver. It’s a valuable role, to be sure. It’s just not the role of a life coach.

Mentors give advice. Consultants give advice. Teachers and preachers and experts of all stripes give advice. But not life coaches.
Sports coaches, fitness coaches, nutrition coaches, even voice coaches give advice. But not life coaches.

Why not?

These other forms of service are characterized by a knowledge differential. The knowledge of one person is desired by another, so the one who has it offers advice to the one who desires it.

Think mentor-to-apprentice. Teacher-to-student. Master-to-novice. Physician-to-patient. Consultant-to-business owner. In each of these, the one desiring growth seeks advice from the one with expertise.

Seeking advice is one of the surest paths to wisdom and success. But it’s not the only means by which personal growth occurs.

Advisors work from the outside-in; an advisor has knowledge and seeks to impart it to the inner being of the advisee.

Life coaches do exactly the opposite; they work from the inside-out, because they don’t have the knowledge their clients are seeking.

Life coaches cannot possibly be experts on their clients’ unique life paths, or giftings, or sense of life callings. They can’t know those things until their clients discover them for themselves.

So a life coach’s primary role is to help clients do exactly that – to discover for themselves, through relationship with the coach, what lies uniquely within themselves.

A Judeo-Christian proverb states: “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out.”

This beautifully captures the exploratory, inside-out nature of life coaching. A life coach “draws out” the purposes of a client’s heart – their gifts, their call, their passion, their path.

How do life coaches do this drawing-out?

They question. Being genuinely curious about what may be discovered, they question and listen, and then question some more.

If coaches are expert in anything at all, it is questioning; digging, probing, prodding, and then reflecting, clarifying, reframing, and challenging.

Think of detectives arriving on a crime scene. They have no more information to begin with than you or I. They don’t know whodunit, or why, or how.

They can’t be advisors because they don’t have the desired knowledge.

The expertise of detectives lies not in having answers but in knowing how to draw them out.

Detectives question witnesses. They search for clues. They form hypotheses and formulate more questions. And eventually, through an intentional process of inquiry and clarification, they discover whodunit and why and how.

They attain their answers from the inside-out. Just like a life coach.

Life coaches approach clients like detectives seeking to discover giftings and callings, and to then help clients discern how to fulfill those.

The differences between advisors and detectives couldn’t be more stark: outside-in versus inside-out.

Old Mr. Webster may not change his definition, but it’s a blow to the field of life coaching if he doesn’t.
Christopher McCluskey, MSW, PCC
His current definition leaves life coaches synonymous with mentors and consultants, creating a hot new buzzword for the same old services instead of distinguishing an entirely new profession.  

Christopher McCluskey, MSW, PCC, is President & CEO of Professional Christian Coaching Institute. A pioneer in the field, he serves on numerous boards and is an active member of the International Coach Federation.


  1. Brilliant and refreshing wind of wisdom, Chris. Thanks for your dedication to our profession of "drawers out".

  2. Well said, Chris. It's important to our profession that we stand apart as guides in relationship with our clients as they discover, learn and expand their awareness.

  3. Very well said, wonderful that they have recognised the profession, let's hope they are open to constructive feedback and change appropriately. Thank you Chris for being so eloquent :-)

  4. We are an ICF accredited coaching training school in Taiwan, an environment where many people are yet to appreciate the true value of non-judgmental coaching. I like your illustration and metaphor which are accurate and easy to understand. I have posted this article in our FB. Thank you.

  5. There is no experstie in human life but awareness. Life coach gives many probes to insides of client who may have good chance to discover better life. Regretfully, Webster was not aware of such profession.

  6. Excellent post! I plan to reference it in a university class.

  7. Outstanding clarification.
    Most clients start out expecting to be counselled, advised, or mentored. Only after going through the entire process do they see the differences in coaching.

  8. Hello, All the info are really inspiring me to get the new hope of life.I'm just search the info about The Mind Academy is a Hypnotherapy, Hypnosis, NLP and Coaching training and certification private college. You started very well and i hope will be doing good in future.Thank's a lot.

    NLP Course

  9. I really impressed by reading this article. In future, you should be giving information about it more. I must have to admire you for this extra ordinary section of coach training

  10. Hello,
    Life coach training has a beneficial effect on personal relationships.Peoples’ sense of satisfaction in life increases.Thanks!!!!!!!!!!

  11. Great Post. Thanks for this wonderful post.
    Life Coaching


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.