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Life Coach Job Description

Life coaches do more than cheer on their clients. Listening, building trust, and helping clients set goals are key to effective coaching.

two professionals talking at table with coffee mugs
two professionals talking at table with coffee mugs

You’ve heard the buzz: Many people have a life coach, and not just celebrities like Oprah Winfrey and Serena Williams. Some of your friends, relatives, or neighbors may have a coach for guidance as they make life changes that require a new journey and new goals.

Luke Davis, vice president of coach training for the International Coaching Federation, says successful coach practitioners “are great listeners and have a genuine interest in helping others. They demonstrate interest, are curious by nature, and ask great questions.”

If that sounds like you, a career as a life coach might could be a good choice.

Overview

Life coaching is a fairly new career, and those who pursue it come from an array of backgrounds. They are often accomplished individuals with college degrees who have been successful in another calling. They may be executives looking for a career change, homemakers looking for fulfilling part-time work, or psychologists who want to use coaching skills in their practice.

Jenny McGlothern is a busy mom with two children. She also owns the retreat and life coaching business Mama Needs A Refill, and currently coaches clients all over the world.

Coaching can be a lot of things, says McGlothern, but mostly it’s about “getting on the phone with a client for a scheduled session and the client hanging up the phone with clarity, inspiration, and a plan of action at the end of our call. Then on our next phone call, it’s about celebrating that client’s success, forward action, or revelation.”

Highly experienced coaches learn to listen and “hear” at a deeper level, recognizing the client’s gifts, limiting beliefs and patterns, and growing sense of self-awareness.

How You’ll Work with Clients

No matter where a life coach works or whether they choose to specialize, there are activities and tasks common to the role:

  • Helping clients identify their goals
  • Encouraging clients to develop targets and next steps
  • Providing support and encouragement as clients work toward their goals
  • Helping clients recognize when strategies need adjustment
  • Holding clients accountable for inaction in a supportive but direct way
  • Celebrating with the client when they meet their goals

As a coach with multiple clients, you’ll:

  • Develop strategies and plans for working with each client
  • Keep track of each client’s progress
  • Meet with clients regularly to discuss progress and next steps

You may meet with clients in person, especially if you’re employed as an internal coach by a business or government agency or by a coaching agency that matches you with clients. Coaches also conduct client sessions over the phone or by video conferencing.

Essential Skills for a Life Coach

Angelina Corbet, a former executive who left the corporate world to start The Mobius Company, works as a coach with individuals, partners, and organizations. Corbet says a successful coach:

  • Facilitates a client’s self-awareness so they know the power for change is within them
  • Builds strong relationships
  • Creates a trusting partnership
  • Motivates others
  • Listens actively
  • Resists the urge to solve or fix a client’s problems themselves
  • Stays present in sessions, focuses on the client, and remains mindful of what is happening in each moment of a coaching session

The Art of Active Listening

Active listening is one of the most important core competencies for a coach practitioner.

For a coach, active listening is the ability to focus completely on what a client is saying—and not saying—to truly understand the client’s desires and goals.

Highly experienced coaches learn to listen and “hear” at a deeper level, recognizing the client’s gifts, limiting beliefs and patterns, and growing sense of self-awareness. A coach can use all of this information to help their client set goals and reach them.

It’s worth noting that while life coaches and therapists share similar traits and skills, their roles are actually quite different. Life coaches help clients look to the future, while therapists help clients examine the past.

Life Coach Specialties

In many situations, life coaches can choose to specialize. This is especially true if they are self-employed or independent contractors.   

If you work for a company, nonprofit, or agency, you might be a generalist and see a variety of clients, or you might specialize by topic or by population—people launching a new business, for example.

Top life coaches and their focus:

  • Health and wellness coaches focus on helping clients who want to improve their health, vitality, and well-being.
  • Relationship coaches work with individuals and couples to find more connection and fulfillment.
  • Executive/leadership coaches work with executives and managers on their leadership skills.
  • Internal and organizational coaches foster positive, systemic transformation and optimal performance within organizations and teams.
  • Life-balance coaches help clients clarify goals and set action steps to achieve them.
  • Spirituality/mindfulness coaches guide clients to be present in the moment, make conscious choices, and live intentionally with compassion.
  • Life transition coaches help clients deal with major transitions in life, such as parenthood, divorce, death, and family issues.
  • Academic life coaches help new students adjust as they move away from home, live on campus, and work to maintain good grades.

For a coach, active listening is the ability to focus completely on what a client is saying—and not saying—to truly understand the client’s desires and goals.

Where You’ll Work

If you don’t strike out on your own, there are a number of businesses and agencies that employ life coaches. Where you work could determine the type of coaching you do and the clients you’ll see.

Here are some of the workplaces that employ life coaches:

Coaching businesses:
You may work with senior corporate leaders and managers to help them improve their leadership skills.

Corporations:
A company may hire you as their in-house coach to help develop leaders and high-performing teams.

Rehabilitation centers:
Your role could be to help people with disabilities develop strategies to help them live independently.

Residential care centers:
You may work with seniors who want to make lifestyle changes.

Hospital or medical practices:
You may work with patients who need to make changes to lead healthier lives.

Insurance companies:
You may work with members of an insurance plan that includes wellness coaching.

Starting Your Own Business

A significant number of life coaches are self-employed or independent contractors. If you’re interested in taking this path, you’ll need to be prepared to run a small business. This means learning various business tasks, such as:

  • Bookkeeping
  • Tax filings
  • Marketing
  • Networking
  • Managing social media

Some coaching and continuing education programs include training on how to set up your own business. McGlothern says it takes about five years to build a practice and suggests that new coaches develop a marketing plan. Life coaches out to make a name for themselves can:

  • Exhibit at fairs
  • Speak at local events
  • Work with a business coach to strategize
  • Choose a specialty
  • Get out and talk about what they do—at the local coffee shop, to reading groups, and in other social settings

Building Your Career

There are a number of ways to build your life coaching career and boost your salary. Davis says experience, credentials or certification, and specialization can boost a coach’s reputation, especially in government and corporate settings.

Both Corbet and McGlothern say that most of their business comes from client referrals, underscoring how important it is to build your reputation.

When it comes to signing a client, they say it’s the rapport the client feels with you that seals the deal.


sheila mickool

Written and Reported by:
Sheila Mickool
Contributing Writer

With professional insight from:

luke davis

Luke Davis
Vice President of ICF coach training programs

jenny mcglothern

Jenny McGlothern
Owner of Mama Needs A Refill

angelina corbet

Angelina Corbet
Founder of The Mobius Company


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