Coaching is a proven way for people to overcome blocks and reach their full potential.
But no two people are the same. It’s only natural, then, that we respond to different kinds of guidance and transformation, depending on the path we’re on and what we’re trying to achieve. As a life coach, your job is to facilitate that change in the style that best serves your client.
Maybe one style of coaching calls you the most, and you only want to work with clients who respond to that style. In reality, there are dozens of life coaching styles, some of which you may have never even heard of (even if you’re a seasoned life coach).
From democratic coaching (more common in sports) to intuitive coaching, developmental coaching, laissez-faire coaching (more common in business), and bureaucratic coaching, the list is endless.
In this article, we’ll explore five common coaching styles, how you can create your own mix of styles, and the difference it will make to your coaching practice. Note that these coaching styles are different from coaching models. The latter follow a specific structure or framework.
Are You Using These 5 Coaching Styles In Your Practice?
Whether you are using coaching as a tool to improve your team’s performance as a manager or a professional coach working with a variety of clients, learning about different coaching styles can enhance the impact of your practice.
Some styles might come more naturally to you; others might not fit your practice. Either way, knowing the difference between these coaching styles will give you perspective and help you design your own unique coaching techniques.
5 Popular Coaching Styles
Let’s look at some of the most popular types of coaching styles that coaches worldwide use with their clients.
1. The Autocratic Coaching Style
This coaching style is normally used in an environment where there’s a clear goal the coachee needs to reach.
With autocratic coaching, there isn’t as much wiggle room for changing direction or choosing another approach, and the goals are pretty much set already, unlike in other coaching situations that require democratic coaching.
The autocratic coach makes decisions for the coachee and closely monitors their progress, often using strict deadlines and high expectations. It is a more rigid coaching style and can be effective when quick decisions are necessary or when the coachee lacks experience.
However, it can also lead to a lack of motivation or creativity from the coachee and may not be suitable for those who value autonomy and independence. It doesn’t fit people in more delicate coaching situations struggling with difficult emotions.
So, when should you use the autocratic coaching style?
- In times when urgent and critical decisions need to be made
- Whenever safety is a concern, such as in a crisis situation
- Working with new and inexperienced clients
- In coaching situations with clear-cut expectations
- When the coachee has a history of not following through on commitments and requires strict accountability
The autocratic coaching style can be useful in certain situations but should be balanced with other coaching styles to ensure a well-rounded approach.
The autocratic style can work well for a sports personal trainer or in a company environment where goals are predefined by the organization, and there is a specific desired outcome.
Autocratic coaches can help people identify their obstacles and overcome them, provide them with the right methodology for success, and guide them in the right direction to achieve great results.
2. The Holistic Coaching Style
Coaches who have a holistic coaching style look at their clients as a whole, with no separation between their work life and personal life. They equally assess the professional, spiritual, and social aspects of their client’s life and the interdependence of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. This approach to coaching emphasizes the interconnectedness of a person’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors and how they impact all areas of their daily life.
Holistic coaches provide a safe space where clients can share anything, even the most sensitive issues in their lives. They help them see the correlations between these areas. For example, how their demanding work hours affect their mental health and relationships. Holistic coaching aims to help individuals achieve balance in all areas of their lives and reach their goals by looking at the person as a whole, not just an isolated aspect or trait.
Holistic coaching is most commonly used by life coaches who help people look at themselves as a whole and identify growth areas without the need to put each problem in boxes.
This coaching style is best used when:
- You offer personal growth coaching or well-being coaching
- Your clients have various goals across different life domains
- You need to help your clients with burnout and stress management
- Your client is seeking guidance with their life purpose and fulfillment
- They are going through an intense transitional period in one life domain that affects all the rest
Holistic coaching means coaches can help their clients prioritize their goals and decide on their actions to move forward. It’s also closely related to intuitive coaching, where clients are encouraged to recognize their intuition and use it to make steps forward.
Are there any downsides to holistic coaching?
One of the major drawbacks is that it can be very time-consuming to consider all aspects of someone’s life in a single session to get them in alignment. It’s not the most straightforward coaching style, and some clients will prefer a more direct approach.
As a holistic coach, you will need to have varied expertise, including psychology, personal development, and spiritual practices. Coaches need to draw on a wide set of qualifications and experiences to offer this type of coaching, and it’s a difficult style for aspiring coaches to start with.
3. The Inspirational Coaching Style
This coaching style is also known as motivational coaching. It’s normally used by coaches who have head-turner charisma and who can easily raise the energy level of their clients. Not surprisingly, many coaches who use an inspirational coaching style are also speakers, thought leaders, or content creators, and they utilize their gifts on a variety of channels.
Using this coaching style is certainly not a must, and it’s not necessarily better than the other coaching types (despite the celebrity coach craze in the industry). But if you know you have the skill to help people see the bigger picture and give them faith in challenging times, this might just be what they need while you’re working with them.
Incorporate the inspirational coaching style into your practice when:
- Your client is facing major setbacks that are emotionally taxing
- They need a boost in their self-esteem to carry on or go to the next level in their career
- You have a personal story that could inspire your client on their journey
- Your client works in creative fields such as art, writing, or creative entrepreneurship
- You work with athletes and other performance-oriented professionals who need intrinsic motivation to do better
Using the inspirational style encourages positive thinking, increases your clients’ self-awareness, and motivates them to achieve what they want in life. You help instill self-belief, which pushes your clients to see their value and strengths, which drives them to take action to achieve their goals.
Inspirational coaching can also help to boost creativity and help people think outside the box to explore new ways of doing things or overcoming challenges.
Not everyone will respond well to these types of coaching styles, as they don’t necessarily provide concrete actions. Some people can also find that the method is too idealistic, and while it may give them an initial motivation boost, it’s not very specific and hard to put into action.
4. The Solution-Oriented Coaching Style
As the name says, this type of coaching style focuses on finding solutions to the predefined problems clients bring to a session. People might come to you with health issues, challenges at work, or a problem in their relationship. Their problem might impact their entire life, like a lack of confidence in themselves.
As a solution-oriented coach, you’ll help your coachee come up with different solutions for their problem and choose the one that’s the best course of action. Once the problem is solved, you move on to the next problem.
Use this coaching style when:
- Your client has very clear goals and is focused on achieving them
- They are dealing with complex problems in their lives or organizations
- They need help in conflict resolution or ongoing stress management
- You’re coaching teams or groups who need to find common solutions to their shared challenges
- You want to build resilience in your client to be able to face the complexities of their situation
The great thing about this style of coaching is that it’s much more well-defined and less “esoteric” in the eyes of more pragmatic clients who would be turned off by some of the other methods listed here. A solution-oriented coaching style encourages creative thinking and decision-making. It’s focused on results and outcomes and can provide your coachee with concrete steps to overcome their specific problems.
Coaching to achieve specific results can help you build a great relationship with your client as you help them discover their strengths, work on their decision-making skills, and empower them to overcome their struggles. This will help you gain the trust of your client and potentially lead to a successful, long-term, ongoing client relationship.
What are the downsides of the solution-orientated coaching style?
This coaching process doesn’t always dig deeper to understand why someone behaves in a certain way or tends to make the same decisions over and over again. If you focus too much on solutions, you might miss certain patterns that are the root cause of your client’s problem, and they might keep turning up their head in future situations.
The intense goal-oriented nature of the method can also lead people to feel stressed and overwhelmed. It tends to neglect the emotional support that your clients so often need in order to carry on. Even if you’re a business coach, complementing this coaching style with other methods occasionally can give you a more balanced approach to your practice.
5. The Mindset Coaching Style
This coaching style is also known as transformational coaching. As a mindset or transformational coach, you’ll uncover limiting beliefs your clients have and other areas in their belief systems that need more clarity. By asking powerful questions, you give them new perspectives on their current reality and thinking patterns, and you help them find their own answers to their most burning questions.
A great mindset coach doesn’t try to influence their client’s way of thinking but instead gives them space and the freedom to choose their own beliefs, which will help them get where they want to be. Helping them make their own choices will empower them more in this particular situation than simply giving them solutions to their problems.
This methodology is great for clients who struggle with their self-esteem. It can be used in a wide array of coaching situations, so it’s easy to tailor this method to their specific needs.
Use the mindset coaching style when:
- Your client is held back by their own limiting beliefs
- They work in competitive industries, or they naturally tend to compare themselves to others
- You work in leadership coaching or other areas where soft skills are key
- Your client seems to be stuck with the same problem repeatedly
- They want to explore their values, purpose, and aspirations deeper
Mindset coaching doesn’t need to apply to any specific area of a person’s life. Your job as a coach is to help your clients overcome the emotional blocks and limiting beliefs that are holding them back from their goals. Once you do that, they tend to move through them with ease.
When you’re a mindset coach, you need to be careful not to tell your clients what they should do. You’re there as a listener and to help them get to their own realizations in their own way. If you want to help your client cultivate a growth mindset so they can realize their full potential, then you need to let them find their own answers. As you may have guessed, this requires excellent communication skills.
This coaching style can also be referred to as developmental coaching because it involves a lot of inner work and overcoming the thoughts that cause barriers to taking action.
Can You Mix Different Types of Life Coaching Styles?
Absolutely, yes, as long as they are serving your clients. Picking a coaching style is not as much a quiz as a toolkit of techniques you can use in different situations. Some might come more naturally to you and allow you to use your own unique skills and competencies as a coach. Others might not work for you or your client, and that’s a-okay.
You just need to remember to assess the kind of coaching style the situation requires, choose the one that’s appropriate, and recognize when you’re not the right coach for a particular situation. Remember, you can’t be all things to everyone!
How Do I Know Which Coaching Style I Should Use?
First, You Need to Take a Close Look at Yourself
Assess which coaching styles you feel comfortable with as a professional. If a coaching style doesn’t sit right with you in a session, your clients will feel it, and you won’t be able to help them with what they need.
Are you great at motivating people? Do you carry a positive, uplifting energy that people find contagious? You might be an excellent inspirational coach.
Do you prefer to just get down to business, take a no-nonsense approach, and focus on finding solutions for your clients? You’re probably a solution-oriented coach who wants to guide clients to their goals.
You have a strong desire to lead, a great leadership style, and you’re an expert in the area that you’re coaching in? Perhaps your biggest value lies in autocratic coaching.
Do you believe that your career can never be separated from your personal life and that transformation can only happen on a holistic level? You’re a holi… You get the idea.
Build on your strengths, and commit to a coaching style that brings out the best in you. If you want to try out a new coaching style and see how that works for you, practice taking a different approach. Pair up with another coach or join a peer-coaching group where you can pick up a new coaching style without any risk and practice it until you feel confident using it.
If you’re still not sure which styles of coaching suit you the most, you could make a list of your strengths and weaknesses as a coaching professional. See which coaching style they mirror and try incorporating those in your practice more often.
Now, Let’s Look At The Other Side of the Coin: Your Client
Use your coaching skills (aka superhuman abilities) to identify the coaching style they most need. It’s not necessarily the one they feel “comfortable” with (as you know, impactful coaching can be uncomfortable).
It’s best to define this as early as in your first discovery session with your coachee. See if they want to focus on a particular area or if they are open to looking at interconnected and cross-functional issues in their life. Pay close attention to whether they want to be given space to find their own solutions with gentle guidance or if they need a more hands-on approach.
Asking your coachee what type of coaching they want is probably pointless because chances are they won’t know. You’re the expert in this situation and you should make the call based on your client’s best interest.
Last But Not Least, Take the Context of the Coaching Relationship into Account
If you’re a manager coaching a team, you will have certain expectations from the employer that you need to keep in mind. Management coaching styles will require more focus on the results of projects, KPIs, and team morale than the personal life issues of your team members or where they want to take their careers.
If you’re an organizational coach, you’ll need to make sure your coaching style fits the organizational culture of the company you’re working with. You will approach a leadership coaching session with the CEO of a company differently than one with a couple in a relationship coaching session.
Choose what’s relevant to you, your client, and the context of the situation. Ultimately, the only thing that matters is picking a coaching style that can move your clients in the direction they want to go.
4 Coaching Principles You Can’t Compromise On (Whatever Your Style!)
Yes, choosing between different coaching styles gives you the freedom to navigate sessions differently. But there are some fundamental coaching principles that you cannot compromise on, no matter which one you choose.
If you’re working as a professional coach or you’ve taken any coaching training before, these principles probably aren’t new to you, but let’s have a recap of them, just in case.
So whatever your coaching style, remember to always…
1. Ask For Consent
This means only coaching someone when you have permission to do so and continuously seeking consent to push your clients, ask uncomfortable questions, or share your own perspective with them.
Nobody wants unsolicited coaching, so make sure you have their permission before you get started — even if it’s their parent or employer who hired you. Conflicts of interest are also a big no-no and you need to make sure you always respect personal boundaries.
2. Keep Things Confidential
What happens in your coaching sessions stays in your sessions. Period. The only exception is the rare case of when your client is a danger to themselves or others, which is when you should refer them to a psychiatrist immediately.
If you’re coaching a team, be clear on when you’re wearing your “manager hat” as opposed to your “coaching hat.” Maintain trust with them and be clear on when it’s time for work talk and when it’s time to share something personal in a safe space.
Coaching is all about mutual respect between coach and coachee so don’t lose that respect by breaking the trust. Keep the content of your coaching sessions private at all times.
3. Refrain From Judgment
Many things are allowed in a coaching session but judgment is not one of them. Keep your personal views to yourself and allow your clients to fully express themselves, share their beliefs, and be vulnerable and imperfect.
Being a good coach is all about empathy whether you can relate to their personal situation or not. The more space you give them to share their vulnerabilities, the easier it will be for you to get to the bottom of their challenges and give them useful guidance.
4. Remember, It’s About Them
If you want to be a successful coach, you should remember that the session should always focus on the coachee, not you. Yes, even if you’re an inspirational coach with stories that can move mountains.
Practice active listening with your clients and give them space to reflect on the talking points of the session before moving on to the next. You should be listening more than you speak but you can definitely provide your client with actionable advice that they can use after your session is over.
Wait, Is There A Difference Between Types of Coaches and Coaching Styles?
Glad you asked 😉
Yes, there is! The type of coach you are is more focused on the topic of your discussion or the area that you’re an expert in. Based on this, you might specialize as a leadership coach, relationship coach, health & fitness coach, relationship coach, branding coach, and so on.
Your coaching style, however, is the way you approach these areas. It’s a toolkit you can pick from as you build a coaching relationship.
Remember, You Can Be Flexible as a Coach
When you pick your coaching style, it doesn’t mean you are consigned to it for the rest of your coaching career! One of the best things about being a coach is that you get to be flexible. Each of your clients is an individual and will need a unique approach to their sessions with you. That’s one of the many reasons the job is so rewarding.
You can choose the coaching styles you feel best at, keep in mind what serves your client, and stay true to your professional commitment as a coach all at the same time.
At Paperbell, we look forward to being your resource for all things coaching and can’t wait to see where this takes you. Now go out and change the world!
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in May 2023 and has since been updated for accuracy.