Coaching is a well-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 different types of life coaching styles, some that 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 different, common coaching styles, as well as 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 All 5 Of These Coaching Styles In Your Practice?
Whether you are using coaching as a tool to improve your team’s performance as a manager or you’re 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 take a look at some of the most popular types of coaching that coaches around the world 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 or with democratic coaching.
The coach makes decisions for the coachee and closely monitors progress, often using strict deadlines and high expectations. It is a more rigid coaching style and can be effective in situations where 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 or those who are struggling with difficult emotions.
Overall, the autocratic coaching style can be a useful tool 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 life.
Holistic coaches provide a safe space where the client can share anything, even the most sensitive issues of their lives, and help them see the correlations between the different areas. Holistic coaching aims to help individuals achieve balance in all areas of their life and to achieve their goals by considering the whole person, not just one aspect or trait.
Holistic coaching is most commonly used by life coaches who help people look at their life as a whole and identify areas of growth in it without the need for categorizing them.
Holistic coaching methods mean coaches can help their clients prioritize their goals and decide on the actions they will take to move forwards. 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 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 all their experiences to offer this type of coaching, and it’s a difficult style for aspiring coaches to start with.
[ Read: The 6 Steps I Use to Come Up with Captivating Life Coaching Mission Statements ]
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 styles (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.
Using the inspirational style encourages positive thinking, increases the self-awareness of your clients, and helps give them the motivation to achieve what they want in life. You help instill self-belief, which pushes your clients to see their value and strengths, which in turn 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, a problem in their relationship, or an issue that encompasses their whole life, like a lack of confidence.
As a solution-oriented coach, you’ll help your coachee come up with different solutions for their problem and make a decision on which one to choose. Once the problem is solved, you move on to the next problem.
The great thing about this style of coaching is that it’s very definite and less esoteric than some of the other methods listed here. This style encourages creative thinking and decision-making. It’s results-driven, and you 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 decision making 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 approach? This approach often doesn’t dig deeper to understand why someone behaves in a certain way or tends to make the same decisions over and over again. The intense goal-oriented nature of the method can lead people to feel stressed and overwhelmed.
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 system that need more clarity. By asking powerful questions, you give them perspective 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 self-esteem or confidence issues, and it’s easy to tailor the method to the specific needs of the client. Mindset coaching doesn’t need to apply to any specific area of a person’s life and can be more general. Your job is to help your client overcome the emotional blocks and beliefs that are holding them back from their goals.
When you’re a mindset coach, you need to be careful not to tell your client what they should do. You’re there as a listener and an aid to help them make their own realizations and find their own way. You want to help your client to cultivate a growth mindset so they can do more and realize their potential. 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 it is 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 different types of coaching styles you feel comfortable with as a life coach. If a coaching style doesn’t sit right with you in a coaching session, you won’t be able to help your clients and give them what they need.
Are you great at motivating people, and do you often carry a positive, uplifting energy that’s 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 coaching 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 style of coaching will suit you most, you could make a list of your strengths and weaknesses to get a full overview. But as a life coach, you probably already have enough self awareness that you don’t need to do that…
Now, You Also Need to 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 or 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 more hand-holding in the process.
Asking your coachee what type of coaching they want is probably pointless because chances are they won’t know. You’re the leader in this situation and should make the call based on your client’s most pressing struggles.
[ Read: 9 Client-Converting Questions to Ask In Every Discovery Session ]
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 leadership 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 a 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.
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.
Nobody wants unsolicited coaching, so make sure you have permission before sharing your expertise. Conflicts of interest are also a big no-no, and your coaching ethics should mean that you always respect 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 team coaching, be clear on when you’re wearing the “manager hat” as opposed to when you’re wearing 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, don’t lose that respect by breaking the trust. Keep the content of your coaching sessions private at all times.
3. Refrain From Judgment
Almost everything is 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.
Being a good coach is all about empathy and being able to show your coachee you can relate. 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 advice.
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.
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 materials of the session, whether it comes from them or you. You should be listening more than you speak so you can provide your client with actionable advice that they can use long after your session is over.
Wait, Is There A Difference Between Types of Coaches & 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 go along your 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 (or create your own mix), keep in mind what serves your client, and stay true to your professional commitment as a coach.
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!