Levels of Coaching

The Four Levels of Coaching

When I first meet with clients, we talk about the difference between mentoring and coaching. These two spaces share a lot in common so they’re easily conflated, and I’ve shared previously my pithy way of approaching the topic:

Mentors answer questions. Coaches question answers.

Even after we had talked it through, clients would struggle. I would see them give a deer in headlights look to some of the “weird” questions I would ask. Or clients would ask me questions in the hopes that I would supply the answer. It was clear a pithy description wasn’t enough. After all, what does it even mean? And I suppose we could turn those questions back around on our client, but I felt like there had to be a better way.

There is. And it starts with four lines and four words, one on top of the other.

First, credit goes to the veteran Ron Renaud who is an amazing and thoughtful coach. During a conversation, he introduced me to what we’ll call the four levels of coaching. I don’t recall if he calls it same, but I do know that I’ve adapted his explanation to fit my own style. I now use this when I get to know new clients or as a reminder with existing clients. We’ll talk about each level of coaching from lowest to highest.

Levels of Coaching


This is the topic brought to the session. It’s what we hope to explore together as we chat. It’s something small enough to fit in a session, important enough to spend our time on, and just a small piece of a bigger puzzle. However, talking isn’t enough. It has to be in service to something that matters. Like it irritatingly says on the wall in my gym:

The difference between a goal and a dream is a deadline.


Usually there’s an arc to a coaching engagement. It’s often a set of goals we want to achieve over time, and Achieving is an important level of coaching. How else will you know if this coaching thing is a success? Mentors spend most–maybe all–of their time in the Talking and Achieving levels. Their focus is to help others gather knowledge at a greater rate or achieve goals important to them. For coaches though, that’s not enough. In fact, it’s only the beginning. I like how Jim Carrey puts it:

I wish people could realize all their dreams of wealth and fame so they could see that it’s not where you’ll find your sense of completion.


It’s from this being space that I find myself being most curious as a coach. This is the home of those “weird” questions my clients can expect of me. For example, let’s talk about those goals you set. What’s important about them and what’s at stake for you now when you consider them? The levels of Talking and Achieving are intellectual. They’re thoughts. But Being? This is about how we feel. It’s about resonance. It’s consideration for how these goals align with our passions and not just what earns us the next promotion.

Recently I had a client who wanted to spend our session talking about what goals to set over the next few months. Before we began, I reminded them of the four levels of coaching, particularly the Being. I told them that I plan to ask questions today from a place of Being, and let them sort out the Achieving bits. After all, our clients are naturally creative, resourceful, and whole. They don’t need our help crafting a goal. They just need a sounding board as they figure it out for themselves.


This is nirvana. It’s Being in every moment of every moment. This is a level we can never achieve so appreciate the journey instead of looking to the destination. Celebrate the imperfection of our own humanity. It’s here we can learn to accept not only the bits we’re proud of but also the bits that we often hide from the world.

That’s all for today. We’ll talk again soon.

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