Break free from the coaching myths

A coach inspires one to take action and obtain solutions to one’s problems and challenges.


‘What’s the difference between a coach and a mentor? Aren’t they the same?’ I am asked this question very often. I have also observed that these two terms are used interchangeably, quite frequently.

I have further noticed that many people think, “a coach is a domain expert and meant to provide advice and give suggestions.”

There are still others who think, “Why do I need a coach? I am good enough and doing well.”

In this write-up, I will share my personal experience, to help you break free from these three popular myths about a coach.

I was approached by a corporate, in an emerging industry, to join its Board of Directors as an independent director. It seemed promising and I considered joining the Board.

Excited, I went to my mentor and relayed the news. Even before I could tell him the name of the corporate and the industry, he cut me off with the advice that unless it was a top-notch corporate, it would not be a good idea to join as the rules are extremely stringent and it was not worthwhile for me to take up this additional responsibility.

Like a little child denied a toy, I was disappointed. He had mentored me to be an independent director in another company, but was now advising me against taking up an offer to be one.

While I respected his views, deep down I felt I should take up the role. Reluctantly, based on my mentor’s advice, I told the corporate that I will not be able to join, without stating any reasons.

The corporate continued to chase me to join, further presenting the positives and the future of the industry that was growing. Though I was tempted to accept, my mentor’s advice kept echoing in my mind. Caught in a dilemma, I wondered what I should do and decided to talk about it in my peer coaching session.

The coach listened patiently, kindled my thoughts and held the mirror for me. What emerged from the coaching conversation was clarity and the action I needed to take that would help me firm up my decision. The first step I had to take was to speak to the current or former members of the Board of Directors and enquire about their experience with the said organisation.

I realised that one of my contacts knew a former long-time Board Director, and hence, I reached out to him. While this senior gentleman left the choice to me, he put across the pros and cons of the organisation.

One of the strong cons was the lack of proper corporate governance in the company. This to me was a huge risk, as the independent directors are personally liable and such issues cause loss of reputation. Therefore, I felt that it was not in my best interest to join the Board. What was important was that I arrived at this decision through my own realisation and not based on someone’s opinion.

The incident helped answer the following questions for me:-

1. What’s the difference between a coach and a mentor?

A. Both help in progressing but the roles played are different.

B. The coach neither provides any advice nor influences one’s thoughts.

C. The coach acts as a sounding board which helps one gather one’s thoughts better and decide for oneself.

2. Does the coach have to be a domain expert?

A. While the mentor may be an expert, the coach may not necessarily be. One’s mentor is the domain expert, not the coach.

B. The coach partners with one to make one think, by provoking one’s thoughts and also challenging one’s beliefs.

C. The coach does not prescribe, but rather, inspires one on what action one needs to take.

3. Why does everyone need a coach?

A. Dilemmas are common for everyone. Getting the required clarity to act on them is essential.

B. Working with a coach benefits everyone, making one realise from within rather than having someone tell one what to do. Even a coach like me, with over 25 years of corporate experience (including leadership positions) benefitted from a coach.

C. When even the top champions in the world of sports work with a coach, why should it be any different in the business world? So, if one is seeking to grow and get better at what one does, working with a Coach can be very beneficial.

Thus, the coach is not a mentor, or a teacher, or a counsellor or even a consultant. A coach inspires one to take action and obtain solutions to one’s problems and challenges. ICF Professional Coaches guarantee confidentiality, empathy, clarity and professionalism for clients. They are trained to recognise whether support, other than coaching, is needed, and offer such resources through referrals.

ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential. A coach is a thought and accountability partner, and a catalyst who supports clients in reaching the clarity of their goals and helps them map out the way to achieve them. A coach does not provide advice, but merely facilitates one’s development and enhances one’s awareness.

The other common feeling that many people have is that anyone can call himself a coach. Yes, that is true as the coaching profession is not regulated. However, to be a successful coach, one needs to be specifically trained in the coaching process and obtain the required credentials. Therefore, it is rather important for anyone considering hiring a coach to first check on her/his coaching training and experience, to make sure she/he is affiliated to a professional coaching body, and abides by a strong code of ethics. Last but not least, it is essential to ensure whether the coach has acquired coaching credentialing with the ICF or any other recognised coaching body.

ICF Credential holders are part of a self-regulating group of elite coaches who provide accountability to clients and the coaching profession. They have pursued and completed rigorous education and practice requirements that provide unquestioned legitimacy to their commitment to excellence in coaching.

Break free from the coaching myths and Find a Coach! now to maximise your potential.

The International Coaching Federation (ICF) is the world’s largest organisation leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 35,000 plus members located in more than 140 countries and territories, work towards the common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organisations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organisations, communities and the world through coaching.

In India, ICF is represented by six vibrant chapters, all led by volunteers — ICF Bengaluru, ICF Chennai, ICF Delhi, ICF Mumbai, ICF Pune and ICF Hyderabad.

The author, Sangeeta Shankaran Sumesh is a PCC-credentialed business coach affiliated to the ICF Chennai chapter. She is The Gain Enabler, creating positive impact. With a corporate experience of 25 years in multinationals as executive director and CFO, Sumesh works with leaders to build high- performance teams and achieve financial growth. She’s on a mission to enable, empower and elevate businesses. A chartered accountant, management accountant and executive educated from the Harvard Business School, Sumesh is also a bestselling author and recipient of many awards. She is also a TEDx and global speaker on finance, high performance and leadership.


  1. Thanks Sangeeta for nice article. This difference need to be explained so that Client are clear. Also this need to be circulated in larger circle explaining the need and importance of coaching.

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