Prioritizing Outcomes When Defining Coaching

Prioritizing Outcomes When Defining Coaching

By Dr. Merle Riepe

President, SOLVE


I’m critical of the definition touted by the International Coach Federation’s (ICF) – what some consider the credentialing agency for coaching. The ICF defines coaching as:


Partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.


I take issue with this definition because it is vague and lacking the most critical requirement of coaching in a business environment – outcomes.


I recognize “inspire others to maximize potential” is aligned with life coaching outcomes, but that wouldn’t suffice as a rationale to engage in executive coaching for my clients. Perhaps the importance is in differentiating performance/leadership/executive coaching?


In defining coaching, I suggest an outcomes-based perspective. Whether you are developing coaches as internal resources or evaluating external coaches, recognizing these six outcomes can support alignment, training, and investment.


Coaching is the practice of helping leaders learn about themselves and others and transferring that learning into results for the organization. Although there are many outcomes that can result from coaching, most researchers suggest six categories:


  • Building resiliency. Goals include greater self-control, reducing self-criticism, managing worry and frustration. Managing internal thoughts is a tremendous help in regulating our behavior.
  • Enriching relationships. Most of us want to have a meaningful relationship with the people we work with most closely. Unfortunately, values and work styles often misalign, and conflict ensues. Skills to manage those dynamics are in high demand.
  • Enhancing presence. Leaders pursue “executive presence,” which includes self-confidence and a stronger brand. Increasing communication or presentation skills are common requests.
  • Increasing productivity. From delegation to time management, leaders are committed to being more productive with less time.
  • Improving well-being. Work-life balance, self-actualization, enlightenment are outcomes we all desire. Yet, many times leaders need support managing stress and avoiding burnout.
  • Finding purpose. “What do I want to be when I grow up?” is as relevant for 50-year-olds as it is for 15-year-olds. The burgeoning notion of multiple careers coupled with our finite time on Earth makes this a worthy focus.


The seventh category often mentioned is developing skills or abilities, but I see skill and ability building as methods to achieve the above outcomes. When someone says, “I want to increase my communication skills,” I ask, “why?” Inevitably, their reasoning aligns with one of the six categories.


The critical benefit of an outcome-based definition of coaching is the specific, measurable expectations it creates for methods, techniques, and overall effectiveness to be evaluated and adjusted. Furthermore, outcomes provide a grounded rationale for executives to invest in coaching compared to a vague concept like “maximizing potential” because the results are expected to transfer into the business. As your organization invests in coaching, I encourage you to prioritize outcomes over process and to shift quickly when the results aren’t manifesting.