So you want to be a coach

October 10, 2022

Sunitha Krishnamurthi, our CEO and anchor of our ICF certified coach training programs, started doing an introductory webinar a couple of years back for people who wanted to be coaches, because we realized that a lot of people have questions about what coaching is. Here’s how she responded to some of the questions that came up last time (this is a transcript so please forgive the conversational style 😀)

What is coaching?

It’s sometimes helpful to start by defining what coaching is not.

It’s definitely not the role Shahrukh Khan played in the movie Chakde India, which is someone coming from the position of expertise in that field ; being directive and telling players what they should do and what they should not do.

It is also not what senior people with grey hair do, once they have some time, which is giving of their wisdom to others. That could be a mentor, someone who shares their own experiences, so that you can benefit from the path that he or she has been down.

Coaching is essentially helping the clients that we work with move forward in their thinking and in their action. One metaphor that I particularly like to use to explain coaching is this – whenever you come to a coach with a question that you need help thinking through, it’s not like you haven’t thought about it at all. However the state of mind when we’re thinking only on your own is likely to look likea ball of wool that’s really tangled up after a particularly naughty kitten has been at it.

We can get stuck in our patterns of thinking and it feels like we’re going over the same things over and over again. The role of a coach is to help sort this tangled mess of yarn into the single string it actually is. In the process of sorting that out, it becomes clearer to the client, what he or she should actually be doing.

Coaches work with the firm belief that all of us have a sense of where we need to be and what will be useful for us in the long run. The coaching process helps us recognize what’s holding us back. Another metaphor I like to use is that each of us are moving towards a goal with a big heavy bowling ball tied to our leg. We may not always recognize what that weight is, but we know it’s there and we know it’s slowing us down. The process of coaching when done well can help a client really articulate what that block is (some way of looking at themselves and the world that is no longer relevant) and help them overcome it.

We do this, not by telling people what they should do but by staying in the spirit of inquiry, staying away from advocacy. I’ve trained hundreds of people to be coaches and I find that learning to ask questions is generally not a problem. But holding back the urge to tell the client what they should be doing is the big struggle that coaches need to overcome. This advocacy is coming from a very good space – “I see you struggling, I want to help and I know what you should be doing. So let me tell you what that should be” but coaching when done well can be a truly transformative experience.

What does a coach do?

We’re spending a lot of time talking about what a coach does not do; let’s talk about what they actually do.

  • Coaches invite the client into a deeper exploration of their reality. They do so by helping the client look at the situation from a range of perspectives. So if you’ve been looking at it from one angle, a good coach will say, “hey, how do things look from this different angle? How would they look if you stepped out of the room or if you were someone else?” etc. You’re therefore able to see a fuller, more well-rounded perspective and in the process, become more aware.
  • Coaches create a psychologically safe space for the client to reflect: These spaces, free of judgment, are very rare to find in our everyday lives. Imagine you’re talking to a friend about some discontentment at work; you’re likely to hear “don’t worry, it will get better” “have you spoken to your manager?” “stop beating yourself up about this”. Positive judgements are still judgements and it’s tough to find places where you can just be heard.
  • Coaches help clients see what they may not be seeing about themselves: having someone who can hold up a mirror, in a very safe environment and with the intent of supporting you can be a powerful intervention for a client.
  • Coaches invite their clients into action. So I often tell coaching clients when they are signing up, that the success of the coaching is as much dependent on what happens in the three weeks between one session and the next session, as it is on what happens in the one hour that we are spending together. In the session itself, the client may deepen their awareness. But unless they choose to experiment with new behavior based on that new awareness, change will not happen. So that’s also part of our responsibility as coaches – to help people move into action.
  • Coaches support clients as they evolve and grow: Making changes to ourselves is not an easy process, especially when it comes to belief systems that you’ve been carrying around all your life. So, for example, let’s say that all my life I have believed that I should not question authority. I realise, in working with a coach, that this belief is preventing me from speaking up in team meetings and advocating for my team. Through the coaching I decide to stand up for myself and challenge authority more; this can be a very scary thing to do. So part of the role of a coach is also to hold a space for clients to come back and reflect on how their experiments are going and what they need to strengthen etc.
  • What is the value of learning to be a coach?

    It’s a very fulfilling profession – many people come in having experienced the power of coaching for themselves and therefore feeling the inspiration to want to help others and give back to others in the same way.

    For me, the biggest value is how much personal growth I experience – I find myself learning so much about myself in the process of accompanying someone else on their journey and it’s an extremely rewarding piece. It’s also difficult, it’s lonely but the satisfaction you can get from helping a client move forward… I think there is very little else that compares to that.

    Also, in the way we run the ICF-accredited programs at Navgati, we pay a lot of attention to deepening the self-awareness of the coach. Most people who have been through our programs talk about how they experience a high amount of personal growth themselves in the process of learning to be a coach. The skills you need to learn in order to be a good coach can apply in multiple areas of your life.

    For example, when you’re learning to be a coach, you’re learning to let go of control, of trusting clients to make their own decisions. So many coaches I’ve spoken to talk about how this has really benefited them in terms of their own parenting style and their leadership styles.

    The ability to be fully present in a conversation, which is something that is vital for your performance as a coach, has so much value when you apply it to relationships in your broader life. Similarly, things like letting go of judgment and most importantly, letting go of judgment of yourself have far-reaching implications. It’s tough to urge self-acceptance to a client without at least some
    measure of inviting it in yourself. Also, the ability to listen to be comfortable with not knowing; with living with ambiguity, all of those are behaviors that you learn as part of a coach and are really useful in all other parts in your life.

    What’s the difference between a life coach and a leadership coach?

    You’ll hear many different kinds of coaching – transition coaching; growth mindset coaching; mid-life crisis coaching (so I’m clearly making some of these up 😀.

    One way of looking at these is to borrow a little from the world of marketing and branding. In any nascent category, there are typically a couple of broad brands that appeal to everyone. As the category matures and grows, newer brands attempt to create niches for themselves so that they can match what they’re offering to customer segments, and therefore create more business for themselves.

    It’s the same with coaching – while the core skills in all of these are exactly the same, how you position yourself can make it easier for your target audience to identify with you; can also help you gain more experience in working in that area.

    What is the market for coaching in India? And is being certified important?

    It’s definitely growing. The last ICF Global Coaching Study was done in 2020 and at that point in time, it reported a 36% increase in demand in India. From anecdotal evidence and from our own work as Navgati, since the pandemic, more and more organizations are looking to invest in coaching as a way of helping leaders manage.

    India still is a nascent market in terms of the availability of certified coaches. We had asked a couple of leaders who hire coaches for their organizations to come in and talk to us a few months back about how they make these choices ( about-coaches/). They both spoke about the fact that in the absence of having other information about the coach, coaching certification is very much table stakes for a coach.

    What experience do you need to be a coach?

    The answer is that professional experience and age are not relevant to how good a coach is. We have had people as young as 27 go through our program and be truly powerful coaches.

    You don’t have to have been working in the banking industry for twenty years to be able to coach a senior leader in banking, because the skill that you bring in as a coach is very different. You don’t need the domain expertise to be able to help them achieve their goals.

    But you do need to build skills; the skills you need are beautifully captured in the 8 coaching competencies as defined by the International Coaching Federation (read more here: All ICF accredited coach training programs should invest in building your skills in creating these eight competencies.

    What does the certification process entail?

    At a fundamental level, you will need the following four elements

    – You will need a certain number of hours of training from an ICF accredited provider
    – You will need to have practised coaching for a certain number of hours
    – You will need to have been coached by an experienced coach on your coaching skills
    – You will need to demonstrate your skill at the level of certification you are applying for (through a recording) and your understanding of the process/competencies (through a multiple choice exam)

    The best place to find the most up-to-date information is on the ICF website here:

    How do you decide where to do your ICF accredited training from?

    I know this can be a somewhat bewildering decision, because there are so many organisations offering coach training of different kinds, all certified by the ICF. Here’s a set of 12 questions you should have answers to before you decide

    1. Is this course ICF accredited and is the accreditation valid?
    2. Does the course give you the hours necessary for your ACC or PCC application?
    3. What is the ratio of synchronous to asynchronous teaching hours?
    4. What level of certification do the instructors hold? What is their experience with coaching?
    5. Is there enough detail provided about the structure and the content of the program?
    6. Is the organization transparent about what they will and will not offer?
    7. Does the level of flexibility they offer about attendance etc. fit your needs?
    8. Do you have an opportunity to speak directly with the trainers?
    9. Do you sense a fit between your style/values and those of the organization?
    10. What do previous students have to say about the program? Both good and bad?
    11. What kind of ongoing support does the organization provide?

    How is the Navgati program structured?

    • The Leaders develop Leaders program is our ACSTH (soon to become Level one) accredited program
    • Comprises of 8 full day sessions, all virtual, completely synchronous hours (because we believe that coaching is a deceptively easy skill and it needs this investment of time to build the foundations of coaching). These are spread over four months so you have the opportunity to apply the learning in coaching conversations you have your understanding, address questions etc.
    • Our program is designed to take into account the fact that coaching requires an understanding of behavioral psychology. You will learn concepts from Transactional Analysis, cognitive restructuring, NLP, psychodrama and positive psychology to help the clients that you’re working with bring about change at a fundamental level. Our belief is that the more we can understand about what drives us and others to act the way we do, the more equipped we will be to help clients really understand what’s going on for them.
    • Supervision is a core part of the way we operate. Half of the 8 days will be spent learning and practicing micro skills to build the ICF competencies. The other four days are structured as coaching labs. In coaching labs, there's no new theory that’s being taught; these are pure practise sessions. We work in groups of 6-8 and you'll take turns coaching each other on real
      questions that you’re facing.

      The person coaching would receive supervision from one of the supervisors on the coaching (we would inquire in to how she felt, what of her internal processes did she bring into that conversation, where did she feel stuck, which skills and tools did she demonstrate etc).

      At the end of the process, you would have either done or observed about 25- 28 coaching conversations with issues that are really varied.. So it's a rich training ground, because you build a level of comfort in dealing with a wide range of issues that a client would bring in. It’s also extremely safe because you can make mistakes, you can ask questions.
    • We also provide ongoing support through a thriving community of coaches called the coaches collective who have been through our programs (over 400 people at last count). You can ask for support, you can get peer coaching, you can ask questions. We also invest in the collective learning of the group through regular seminars which are focused either in terms of helping you build your business as a coach or your skills.

    To know more about our ICF coach certification programs please write to

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