Mindfulness: A Key to Successful Coaching


By Gene Wheeler

What is mindfulness and how does it relate to being a successful coach?  Let’s start by looking at the definition of coaching.

Coaching Defined

Wikipedia defines coaching as a form of development in which an experienced person, called a coach, supports a learner or client in achieving a specific personal or professional goal by providing training and guidance. The learner is sometimes called a coachee.

To expand on that definition, a coach uses a strategic approach with solution-focused questions to uncover facts and provide data to reach a solution.  The coach uses tools such as active listening, summarizing, paraphrasing, and metaphors to mention a few, to assist the coachee during the coaching process to reach their goal.

I am often asked the question, what is the difference between a therapist, counselor, mentor, consultant, and coach?  To explain the difference, let’s look at a simple example of learning to drive a car.

  • A therapist will explore what is stopping you from driving a car
  • A counselor will listen to your anxieties about the car
  • A mentor will share tips from his or her experience of driving a car
  • A consultant will advise you how to drive the car, depending on what kind of car
  • A coach will encourage and support you in driving the car

While therapy may be about damage and counseling about distress, coaching is about identifying and fulfilling goals.

Mindfulness Defined

So how does mindfulness come into play as a key to successful coaching?  Let’s look first at the definition of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the psychological process of purposely bringing one’s attention to experiences occurring in the present moment without judgment.  It means maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, which one develops through practice.

From the definition, we can see that mindfulness is about paying attention to your inner or outer experience and involves paying attention to certain attitudes, such as curiosity, acceptance, and kindness.

Mindfulness and Centering

Mindfulness and centering go hand-in-hand when it comes to coaching. Centering means to calm your emotions and slow your mind and your breathing to a point where you can ‘feel’ a lot more going on around AND inside you. It’s like a state of alertness, but really relaxed at the same time. 


  • How do you center yourself and maintain that sense of being centered and noticing when you are off-center?
  • What pushes you off-center?
  • Self-awareness must move with you through each stage of the coaching session.

Mindfulness and the Impact on Coaching 

What goes through your mind, your emotional state, prior to the coaching session?  What mental preparation do you need to take to give your undivided attention to the coachee?

What is negative mindfulness and how could it impact coaching and distort the picture? Let’s look at what could cause negative mindfulness and cause you to be off-center.

  • Your feeling and perceptions, knowledge about the coachee, your history with them
  • Perceptions and prejudices (conscious or unconscious)
  • Your feelings about yourself
  • The events of the day prior to the coaching session
  • The thought process of “I have heard this same story over and over again”
  • I can solve this problem, I have the answer

Practicing mindfulness benefits coaches and the client

I like the way Jonathan Passmore and Mark Joyella look at the benefits of mindfulness for the coach and the coachee.  They state the following benefits:

  • The ability to offer each client full focus and attention
  • The ability to focus attention on the only moment that “is”
  • Ability to “be” with the clients
  • The ability to act as a facilitator rather than an expert (asking rather than telling, guiding rather than directing)

Practicing mindfulness benefits clients/coachee by:

  • Giving them the opportunity to focus their attention from everyday pressures and anxieties (that hold back progress in coaching) to the session and to their learning
  • Providing the ground for personal development and self-actualization
  • Providing an effective tool to help clients resist the temptation to sabotage their own progress toward goals
  • Clears away clutter that keeps clients from reaching the goals they hope to achieve
  • Better relationship with the coach
  • Becoming aware of (self-destructive) impulses
  • Ability to make better choices
  • Making lasting changes becomes possible – clients are less likely to fall into unhealthy habits

Benefits of Executive Coaching

There are many benefits to Executive Coaching, including:

  • Better self-awareness and self-reflection
  • Increased individual performance
  • Higher motivation and commitment
  • Better leadership skills
  • Personal growth
  • Higher quality of life/work-life balance
  • The clarity in purpose and meaning
  • Better management of change process
  • Improved communication and relationships
  • Efficient implementation of acquired skills

 In summary, being mindful is becoming clear of our intentions and personal agenda.  Effective coaches focus their energy on developing helpful, working relationships.  They create a more centered state of mind by getting in touch with personal communication filters.  This awareness allows us to consciously choose whether to say or withhold that thought.  The coach knows when to be mindfully present, to listen and respond clearly, with acceptance, and without judgment

A coach should not lead, judge, advise, or influence the coachee.  The coachee has all the required knowledge to solve his or her own problems.  The coach facilitates, unleashing the coachee’s potential.  The focus is on enhancing performance and behavior supported by cognition and motivation.

Author:  Gene Wheeler is a Consultant, Educator, Public Speaker, Executive Coach, and Facilitator for Executive Coaching for the Institute of Organization Development.  He has been an adult educator and Human Resource Consultant for over 30 years, helping individuals, teams and organizations grow and strengthen human capital through recruiting, 360° and psychometric assessments, competency-based leadership development training programs, talent management, and executive coaching. He was also the director of the Air Force Leadership School.

To learn more about mindfulness, and a step-by-step strategic process to becoming a certified Executive Coach, sign up for our eight-month Executive Coaching Certification Program. www.instituteod.com


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