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Defining and Discovering the Coaching Mindset

The second core competency outlined by the International Coaching Federation is “embodies a coaching mindset” (ICF, n.d.). What is a “coaching mindset” and how can executive coaches ensure they are accurately embodying this characteristic? Continue reading to learn.

“Mindset is your rudder in the boat of your life.” - Shan White

What is the coaching mindset?

The ICF defines a coach with an accurate coaching mindset as a coach who “develops and maintains a mindset that is open, curious, flexible and client-centered” (ICF, n.d.). They outline several characteristics of a coaching mindset:

  • Acknowledges that clients are responsible for their own choices

  • Engages in ongoing learning and development as a coach

  • Develops an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching

  • Remains aware of, and open to, the influence of context and culture on self and others

  • Uses awareness of self and one’s intuition to benefit clients

  • Develops and maintains the ability to regulate one’s emotions

  • Mentally and emotionally prepares for sessions

  • Seeks help from outside sources when necessary (ICF, n.d.)

There are three categories that these characteristics fall into as outlined by Mukul Dhawan of the ICF: self-awareness, self-development, and self-regulation (2021). To dive deeper into what the coaching mindset is, we address each of these categories below.

“Awareness is a key ingredient in success. If you have it, teach it, if you lack it, seek it” - Michael B. Kitson

Coaching mindset: awareness of self and others

An essential part of the coaching mindset is having the awareness of self and others. For example, the ICF outlines in their core competencies that coaches with a “coaching mindset” remain “aware of and open to the influence of context and culture on self and others.” They are also aware of themselves and their own intuition (ICF, n.d.). Dhawan of the ICF also elaborates on this awareness and states that executive coaches should “be aware of how [their] own background may have influenced who [they] are as an individual” (2021). He also recommends that executive coaches should be aware of their “client’s culture and context” when coaching (Dhawan, 2021).

Research has shown that being aware and mindful of one’s own emotions, and the emotions of others, can have a positive effect on leadership abilities. According to the Journal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, self-awareness, can improve “leader effectiveness” and followers' “satisfaction” (Tekleab et al., 2007).

“I come to practice every day with the mindset that I am there to get better.” - Caeleb Dressel

Coaching mindset: dedication to self-development

A key characteristic of a high-impact executive coach is the ability to stay green and growing. High impact executive coaches are aware of the ever-changing challenges their clients face and stay up-to-date on current research and trends regarding these challenges.

The ICF states that coaches with the coaching mindset have “an ongoing reflective practice to enhance one’s coaching.” They are constantly developing their coaching skills to meet the changing needs of their clients. The ICF also states that executive coaches with a coaching mindset seek “help from outside sources when necessary.” This means that they are consistently looking for the latest data to provide their clients, and are not afraid of changing their concepts, understandings, or methodology as needed.

Dhawan further outlines the self-development of an executive coach by stating that executive coaches who are focused on their self-development “identify opportunities to develop as a coach” so that they are “fit for the future,” have a “dedicated time” for reflection, and honor “coaching ethics by directing clients to other professional services as needed” (2021).

Researchers from the University of California have discovered that “learning promotes brain health” and can help “limit the debilitating effects of aging on memory and the mind” (UCI, 2010). Furthermore, researcher Marjan Laal, discovered that lifelong learning can help individuals cope with the “fast-changing world,” increase income, and create an “enriching and fulfilling” life (2012). Research from Pew also echos these findings. They state that “those who see themselves as lifelong learners are younger, better educated and better off financially than others” (Horrigan, 2016).

Consider the following insight from McKinsey Quarterly: “Learning itself is a skill. Unlocking the mindsets and skills to develop it can boost personal and professional lives and deliver a competitive edge” (Christensen et al., 2020). By taking the stance of a lifelong learner and committing to self-development, executive coaches can help their clients in a changing economy and improve their own wellbeing.

“Self-regulation will always be a challenge, but if somebody’s going to be in charge, it might as well be me.” - Daniel Akst

Coaching mindset: practicing self-regulation

Self-regulation is the ability to monitor one’s own emotions and behaviors. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines “self-regulation” as “the act or condition or an instance of regulating oneself or itself: such as… control or supervision from within instead of by an external authority [or] the bringing of oneself or itself into a state of order, method, or uniformity.”

Self-regulation helps executive coaches bring themselves into the “method” or “state of order” required for successful executive coaching. For example, an executive coach exercises self-regulation by withholding their judgment towards their clients’ decisions or beliefs.

Self-regulation is also involved by executive coaches when they refrain from consulting. For executive coaches with previous experience in their clients’ industry, it can be tempting to offer advice or experiential learnings to their clients. However, the best executive coaches only do this occasionally and with permission. Instead, they ask questions and practice self-regulation to help their clients reach their own unique solutions. Research has shown that when leaders increase their “self-regulation,” teams increase their “financial performance” and leaders increase their “effectiveness” (Yeow & Martin, 2013). When executive coaches embrace “self-regulation” they reduce the likelihood of “snap-judgments” made towards their clients, increase their leadership skills, and improve their evaluation skills (Gregg, 2020).

The main takeaway

The coaching mindset is an essential component of a great executive coach. By understanding what the coaching mindset is, the components that make up the coaching mindset, as well as the importance and research behind the coaching mindset, executive coaches can further improve their coaching practice and better help their clients.

“Once your mindset changes, everything on the outside will change along with it.” - Steve Maraboli


Christensen, L., Gittleson, J., & Smith, M. (2021, November 17). The most fundamental skill: Intentional learning and the career advantage. McKinsey & Company.

Dhawan, M. (2021, May 18). A Powerful ICF Core Competency: Embodies a Coaching Mindset. International Coaching Federation.

Gregg, T. (2020, October 12). Why self-regulation is a core characteristic for any good leader. Anthony Gregg Partnership.

Horrigan, J. B. (2016, March 22). 1. The joy – and urgency – of learning. Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech.

ICF. (n.d.). The Gold Standard in Coaching | ICF - Core Competencies. International Coaching Federation.

Laal, M. (2012). Benefits of Lifelong Learning. Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences, 46, 4268–4272.

Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Self-regulation. In dictionary. Retrieved March 7, 2022, from

Tekleab, A. G., Sims, H. P., Yun, S., Tesluk, P. E., & Cox, J. (2007). Are We On the Same Page? Effects of Self-Awareness of Empowering and Transformational Leadership. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 14(3), 185–201.

UCI. (2010, March 2). Learning helps keep brain healthy. UCI News.

Yeow, J., & Martin, R. (2013). The role of self-regulation in developing leaders: A longitudinal field experiment. The Leadership Quarterly, 24(5), 625–637.

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