As coaches, whether it’s in business coaching, life coaching or career coaching, a big part of what we do, is to support an individual achieve their goals. Goal-setting is in many ways interlinked with the philosophy that underpins coaching practice. However, you’ll find that many coaches also talking about encouraging life-long, transformational change. The question is… is this necessary for great coaching?

Let’s explore transactional and transformational approaches to coaching.

This idea provides one of the main dichotomies in coaching from which the terms transactional and transformational coaching arise. So that we can make sure we’re on the same page lets first explore what this means. Broadly speaking we can say that transformational coaching support the individual take full control of their life and implement changes that will impact them holistically and long term. This can be a rather tough and daunting challenge, necessitating the client to be ready for this level of transformation.

On the other hand transactional coaching focuses more on the day-to-day issues and challenges that the individual is experiencing right now. Perhaps we could say that the results from transactional coaching will be less-profound and more short-term. So for example, supporting someone deliver a big presentation to the senior team can be considered to be more transactional in nature. However, exploring, more on a deeper level, what might be making that person feel nervous, developing their confidence and ways to implement strategies that go beyond that one presentation feels more transformational. Furthermore, transformational coaching encompasses various parts of someone’s life – it’s not just about work – it’s coaching on a more holistic level. 

So bearing that in mind should we always strive for our clients to achieve transformational change?

The ICF talks about coaching as being a partnership and personally I believe that this question (as much as most of the coaching process itself) should fully revolve around what the client wants to achieve. As coaches we need to make sure that we find that balance otherwise, if we constantly strive and push for the client to achieve transformational change then are we not essentially pushing our own agenda? I’d say that if we are doing that then the session is more coach-led than coachee-led. Our directiveness is getting in the way of listening exceptionally well to what the client wants to achieve, their values and desires. 

With my own clients I explore if transformational change is what they want to achieve. I might test an idea or two with the questions that I ask (in order for myself to understand) but also help the client understand, what it is that they want. Most clients react positively to this and become very committed to working towards more integrative, long-term and holistic goals. However it does happen, at times, that a client wants to stay in that transactional place focusing on shorter goals. These are typically clients that feel that they have issues to resolve, or ‘things to fix’ before they can move on and working towards transformational, long term goals.

Either way, I believe that it is important to let the client explore what type of coaching they would like to engage in since ultimately it is about them. We should be extremely careful not to impose our own agenda and if the client wants to work within the transactional sphere then that is where we need to stay.  

From a coach training point of view this is also important, i.e. understanding whether a course might support more of a transactional or transformational approach to coaching.

Our ICF Accredited Diploma in Integrative Coaching covers both although it is more focused on enabling long-term, transformational change. Because of the way it’s been designed it caters for individuals who wish to develop themselves as business, life, career or executive coaches alike.

In addition if you are thinking about starting a coach training programme have a look at our tips in choosing a provider.