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Coaching styles

In its simplest form, coaching is a process that aims to improve people’s lives. Whether it is a person’s career, family life, confidence or work/life balance that they wish to improve, the aim of a coach is to harness the right methods in order to help their client make changes.

As coaching is such a broad profession, it encompasses a huge variety of techniques and styles. Coaching 'techniques' are the practices used by coaches during sessions - these include NLP, linguistic models, writing exercises and interview techniques. The term 'coaching styles', however, refers to the overall direction of each session.

What does the client want? To become more empathetic? To develop a greater sense of self-awareness? To do better at work? To become fitter or stronger?

The life coach will determine what kind of coaching style to use depending on what outcomes the client hopes to achieve, and how they wish to get there. Of course, coaches will naturally work with a style derived from their own personal experiences. Most of the time those experiences create a unique style that combines aspects from styles such as transformational, holistic, and solution-focused.

On this page, we will look at some common coaching approaches. We'll discuss what they involve as well as which areas or industries they are best suited to.

Performance coaching

Improvement is at the heart of life coaching - and improved performance is at the heart of performance coaching. Whether you're an athlete, an artist, a writer, a performer, or a musician, adopting specialist techniques will help you to push your limitations and exceed expectation. Performance coaching can help you to:

  • identify roadblocks to achieving your true potential
  • set practical, achievable goals
  • develop new skills
  • identify and maximise strengths
  • develop tools to overcome weaknesses

Rather than attending a generic training course for whichever industry you're in - covering a range of topics, which may or may not be relevant to you - performance coaching takes a more bespoke and personally-designed approach. Performance coaching looks to add greater value by helping the individual to address challenges specific to that person.

In a business context, performance coaching can bring out the true potential of staff at all levels - not only ‘high-performing’ individuals. However, it’s not all about targets or number-based potential. Performance coaching also looks to support a person’s performance through understanding other factors.

This can include factors such as relationships and well-being as well as those brought about by organisational change e.g. mergers, acquisitions or redundancies. In this way, performance coaching can look to address issues such as absenteeism, burnout and stress. Working with a qualified, experienced performance coach will challenge yet support the individual, enabling them to perform at their best, more often.

Holistic coaching

Holistic coaching looks at the client as a whole. This approach works on the basis that to address one issue, all issues surrounding it or connected to it in any way must also be addressed. This is because, according to holistic coaching theory, everything rests in a web of interconnectedness, i.e. everything has a cause and everything has an effect.

When we change one aspect of our lives, all others invariably shift too. Life coaches specialising in the holistic coaching style often look at their clients' whole lives - from their physical fitness to the state of their social lives in order to help them achieve a peaceful equilibrium. The holistic coaching style encourages: 

  • a better understanding of how our actions affect the world
  • greater sense of purpose
  • a healthier body
  • a calmer disposition
  • greater satisfaction from the small things in life

This approach is especially beneficial when addressing work/life balance. This is because it looks at all elements of the client's life, helping them find ways to maintain balance. Holistic coaching is often used when addressing health and stress too. As well as investigating physical changes the client can make to improve health, a holistic coach will also look at lifestyle factors, relationships and stress levels to see how these may be affecting their health.

For further information about holistic coaching, read ‘Holistic approach to life changes - methods that complement coaching’.

Mindfulness coaching

An increasing number of businesses are hiring mindfulness coaches to help employees develop calmer, more enlightened approaches to business. 'Mindfulness' refers to a heightened state of awareness - both of the self and of the world surrounding the self. According to mindfulness coaching theory, this helps clients:

  • develop better workplace relations
  • reduce workplace tensions
  • improve reactions to stressful situations
  • empathise with others
  • increase concentration and attention span
  • achieve a healthier work/life balance

As mindfulness and meditation are now used to treat stress and depression, this coaching approach can be especially useful for clients suffering from anxiety and depressive conditions. As the approach has a spiritual element to it, it can also be used with clients looking to explore their spirituality.

Life Coach Anita Gohil-Thorp provides an example of how to be mindful before you start a task:

Take your seat at your desk. Place your feet firmly on the ground. Allow your shoulders to relax. Take a breath and a moment to ensure the shoulders have relaxed. Place your hands and lower arms comfortably on your desk. You may wish to close your eyes or lower your gaze. Do what is comfortable for you in your environment. Notice the sensations you feel as your feet are on the ground. You may notice nothing or you may notice something, some tingling or other sensations.

This approach can also be used for clients seeking relationship coaching. Whether they are in a relationship or not, clients can develop a greater sense of compassion, understanding and empathy - essential qualities for healthy relationships. Those with ADHD may also benefit from mindfulness coaching as it helps to improve focus and clarity.

Transformational coaching

Transformation coaching, as the name suggests, can assist those who want to undergo a big change, or changes, in their life.

While the name may seem to indicate that is the person (and their actions) that will undergo a transformation, there is more of a focus on the person’s attitude and perception of themselves, rather than on their actions or behaviours. This might involve work around changing a person’s self-image, or perceptions about themselves and their limitations.

Not realising or achieving our dreams can have quite a negative effect on a person. Feeling as though you have not accomplished everything you set out to do in life can lead to disappointment and frustration - particularly if it is self-doubt or fear that is holding you back. But, by working on our self-belief, this can give us the confidence to do what is needed to reach our goals and feel satisfaction.

Clarity + Confidence + Action = Transformation

This approach can help you if you want to change and are ready to uncover thoughts, beliefs and actions that create long-lasting, deep-rooted transformation. A coach can help you to courageously create the changes you seek, in order to stop feeling dissatisfied, restless and underperforming in your life or career.

Vision coaching

Vision coaching is a coaching style with an emphasis on future-thinking. It rests on the basis that the power of thought can be harnessed to shape the future. According to vision coaching theory, the more we focus our minds on a vision of an outcome we desire, the more likely it is that that outcome will occur. 

Vision coaching is often used by sports coaches to help athletes visualise the process of winning, for example, urging them to picture themselves crossing the finish line and receiving their gold medal or trophy on the podium. The idea is that the process of visualisation prepares the body for the task it is about to undertake, erasing feelings of self-doubt that might otherwise hinder progress by carving a path towards the desired outcome.

Life Coach Dawn Buckley details a useful visualisation technique:

To visualise effectively put yourself in a relaxed, calm mental state, be uninterrupted and ready to focus your attention. Take some deep breaths, inhaling slowly and deliberately. Allow your imagination to create a clear picture of what it is you desire. Allow all your senses to come alive around the subject matter. What does it look like, smell like, feel like, taste like, sound like? Notice how your mind and your body respond when you create a picture of what you want? Allow yourself to feel it is real and already in your life. Notice your mind and body reactions as you do this.

This approach is ideal when there is a specific goal or outcome to achieve. Sports coaching often uses visualisation techniques and many athletes say they practise the technique before competing. Vision coaching can also work well when working with confidence and public speaking.

Autocratic coaching

Autocratic coaching is a style of coaching that takes a 'telling' approach rather than an 'asking' approach. This coaching style tends to be used in situations where a client needs to learn a specific technique to further their development. Instead of handing the reins to the client, the coach will take full control of the session by explaining exactly what it is that needs to be done and encouraging the client to follow their lead.

This coaching style is most commonly adopted in sports, military and business situations as opposed to general life situations, which usually require a softer coaching approach. Autocratic coaching encourages:

  • good discipline
  • respect for authority
  • high levels of organisation

Autocratic coaching is useful for clients who require structure or need to learn a technique quickly. It can be used in staff coaching, particularly in highly demanding environments such as restaurants, sales and the military. This coaching approach may also be used within sports coaching to push the client further in their training. Depending on the circumstances, youth coaches may also integrate an autocratic style.

Democratic coaching

Democratic coaching invites the client to participate in the coaching process by encouraging them to adopt a 'self-coaching' attitude. The coach's role in the democratic approach is to outline the overall objectives but allow the client to suggest how he or she might reach them. Although a democratic coach might make the final decisions, he or she will base these decisions on the client's own opinions and feelings. The democratic coaching style encourages:

  • introspection
  • a sense of accountability
  • a sense of self-control
  • a sense of freedom
  • good decision-making skills that can be applied to everyday life

There are several areas that democratic coaching can be useful for. Career coaching, for example, often benefits from this approach as it encourages the client to take control of their career path. Finance coaching is another example, as it prompts the client to have a sense of accountability. Coaches working on personal development may also use the democratic coaching style to help clients develop decision-making skills.  

Solution-focused coaching

Solution-focused coaching is concerned with what a client wants to achieve in the end. A solution-focused coach will question a client about this goal in order to clarify his or her vision. What is it they really want? How are they going to get there? What happens once they do get there? Solution-focused coaching encourages:

  • introspection
  • self-evaluation
  • clear goal setting
  • a richer understanding of one's own unique path in life

Setting clear goals and focusing on solutions can be very useful in business coaching, especially for entrepreneurs. It can also work well for clients trying to develop themselves personally as it encourages self-evaluation.

Intuitive coaching

Intuitive coaching aims to help you access and develop your intuition. It follows the principles and teachings of traditional life coaching - such as setting goals, creating action plans, as well as working on habits and beliefs - but, unlike traditional coaching, the client is guided in a more spiritual way.

Intuitive coaching enables you to answer some of life’s primary questions:

  • Why I am here?
  • Who do I want to become as a person in my lifetime?
  • What do I want to create?

Life Coach Paulina Tejs explores how intuitive coaching differs from traditional life coaching:

Intuitive coaching goes much deeper into the source of a problem or challenge than traditional coaching, as it not only analyses your behaviours but also probes it on a spiritual level. It makes you realise, who you are in your core as a person, as a spiritual being, which further leads you to discover your true purpose in life.

By gauging your energy and emphasising emotional and spiritual healing, intuitive coaching can help clients release the blockages that keep them from moving forward. The coach’s role is to point out what we cannot easily see for ourselves.

Remember, we are all different. There is no fix-all approach in coaching; it will depend on you, your situation and your coach. You may not find the right approach for you straight away, and that's OK. Take your time.

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