Spoiler alert: Professional coaches aren’t just for sports. A coach can help you achieve your next professional or personal goal including building or growing your company, moving up the management ladder, building on leadership skills or being your best self for your family. Your coach has one goal and one goal only: help you succeed. 

As you think about whether or not to hire a coach, you may be wondering: What is an executive coach? Am I paying someone to scream at me that I’ll have to run laps if I forget to send that important email? 

The best way to explain a coach may be to explain what a coach isn't. 


A professional coach is not...

A consultant. A coach will not tell you what to do. You are the expert of your life. If you want to know the best way to do something, hire a consultant with years of experience. If you hire someone and he/she does most of the talking, that is a consultant or mentor, not a coach. A coach asks you questions so you can think through the right approach for you. A coach creates a safe space for you to think about your current situation, where you want to go, what obstacles may be in your way and how to reach the outcome you wish. A coach holds the space for you. You are the expert of your life.

A therapist. A coach is not trained to be a therapist. Your work with a coach is focused on future outcomes you wish to see. It is possible that with coaching, you will identify behaviors that are getting in your way of accomplishing your goals, but if coaching moves into work that feels like therapy, they will identify it and recommend you see a therapist. 

A judge or critic. A coach sees you as whole the way you are. Their one job is to help you accomplish what you want to accomplish. The best client is one who wants to grow. By asking questions that help you see what might be getting in your way, the details of your vision and/or next steps, a coach helps you discover the path to what you want. To help you accomplish your goals, they'll hold you accountable for the action steps you agree to take. 

A mentor. A mentor is often someone in your field who can guide you from personal experience and help make connections for you that could help you be promoted in your field. A person trained to be a coach can work with clients in any profession and with any level of experience, and creates space for you to create solutions and paths to your goals.

Untrained. To truly serve their clients, professional coaches need training through a specific process and structure. I was trained through the International Coaching Federation program. While my background as a CEO helps guide my work as a coach, I also needed professional coaching training and continuing education to best serve my clients.


Christina Littlejohn has been the CEO of the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra since June 2009. During that time, the orchestra has grown its budget by 25% and greatly expanded its education programming. She's also an ICF-trained professional coach. If you want to explore coaching options, email her at cllcello600@gmail.com. 


Click here to sign up for the monthly e-newsletter: