Home All What Coaches Must Do, Know & Be

What Coaches Must Do, Know & Be

written by Margaret Greenberg 14 May 2007

Margaret Greenberg, MAPP '06, is co-author of Profit from the Positive. After a 15-year career in corporate HR, she founded The Greenberg Group, an organizational effectiveness consulting practice, in 1997. Margaret specializes in coaching executives and their teams using a strengths-based approach. Full bio.

Margaret's solo articles are here and her articles with Senia Maymin are here.

What Coaches Must Do, Know & Be
Last month, I wrote about what I believe a leader must Do, Know, and Be.  This month I’d like to use this same, three-part model to examine the role of a coach.  The intersection of these three components, the shaded area, is where excellence in one’s profession can be found.  It’s where action, feeling, and thinking are aligned and integrated into a consistent whole.

Intersecting Behaviors

Intersecting Behaviors

As a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), trained in the co-active coaching model[1], what I learned from studying the application of Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania has had some impact on the first two components (Do and Be), and a significant impact on the third (Know). 

As an executive coach, I am still applying the philosophy, tools, and techniques of the co-active model.  So, what am I doing and who am I being?  In the being realm I still hold the client to be creative, resourceful, and whole.  I still believe the client should set the coaching agenda.  In the doing realm I still strive to be totally present for each coaching session (that’s why I never coach from my desk chair in front of a computer!) and listen at levels 2 and 3.  I still use my intuition, curiosity, and self-management to dance in the moment with the client.  I still make requests, champion the client, and ask powerful questions.  I do and be all of these things to deepen my client’s learning and forward his or her action.  Positive Psychology has added to my toolbox a number of assessments and exercises that have been proven to be effective in enhancing my coaching, as well as my client’s self-awareness and well-being.

However, where Positive Psychology has made the greatest contribution to my coaching is in the know realm.  When I think back on my coaching training and certification process, nowhere was I ever exposed to the theory or the “why” behind coaching.  This is where Positive Psychology can bring more rigor and evidence-based research to the forefront of the profession. 

Positive Psychology has given me the theories and evidence that the things I already do and be are grounded in something more than my intuition.  While intuition is a core coaching skill, some potential clients – especially corporate clients whose world revolves around data and facts – want to know why they should invest time and money in coaching.  I am reminded of a quote from Carol Kauffman of Harvard, from the Second International Coaching Federation (ICF) Coaching Research Symposium in 2004:  “Corporate and individual clients now arrive at sessions with more sophisticated expectations and higher hopes for what coaching can offer…To withstand the scrutiny of a wider public the field needs to be able to explicitly describe what principles inform interventions, suggest theories that explain why they work and to support itself on the foundation of solid empirical research.”[2]  Through rigorous research, Positive Psychology can provide credible answers to support the coaching profession. 

Positive Psychology and Coaching

There are two common types of research: 

  • Outcome research which asks, “Does it work?”  and
  • Process research which asks, “How does it work and why?”

Many clients want to know:  What are the benefits of doing this particular exercise or assignment?  And those who are footing the coaching bill in large corporations want to know there will be a return on their investment.  Following are some specific examples of how I see Positive Psychology intersecting with the coaching profession. 

  • In coaching, we “acknowledge” and “champion” the client – a core coaching skill.  In Positive Psychology, we examine studies on the positive effects of what is called Active Constructive Responding (ACR) and Catherine Freemire’s 3A model (Acknowledge, Amplify and Apply). 
  • In coaching, we “separate interpretations”.  In Positive Psychology, we are exposed to common Thinking Traps discovered by Aaron Beck, the father of cognitive therapy.
  • In coaching, we “change geography” and use the body to deepen the client’s experience.  In Positive Psychology, we are drawn to the work of Riff and Singer that explores the interconnectedness of the mind and body (or what we call somatic) on human wellness. 
  • In coaching, we often introduce our clients to journaling and visualization exercises like “Future Self”.  In Positive Psychology, we examine the evidence behind exercises like Best Possible Self (BPS) that prove the benefits to health and overall well-being, and Bandura’s research in visualizing success scenarios.
  • In coaching, we work with our clients to set goals in their life, like the “Walk the Talk” exercise, and develop plans to achieve the goals.  In Positive Psychology, we explore goal theory and studies like King’s that show setting goals produces self-efficacy and promotes well-being.
  • In coaching, we help clients notice and overcome their “gremlin” conversations.  In Positive Psychology, we study resiliency, optimism, and disputing or reframing techniques such as the ABCDE model (Adversity, Beliefs, Consequences, Dispute, Energy).
  • In coaching, we work with clients on process by amplifying both “up and down the tube” experiences.  In Positive Psychology, we explore the benefits Bryant has found in savoring and examine the three temporal forms.
  • In coaching, we help clients uncover and/or clarify their life purpose and core values to serve as “stabilizing rudders” for living a fulfilling life.  In Positive Psychology, we learn why purpose and values are so important to creating meaning in one’s life through the work of Baumeister and Vohs.

Positive Psychology has a lot to offer the coaching profession to broaden the coach’s knowledge and provide empirical evidence for why coaching works.  By bringing more science to the discipline, coaching will avoid the “fad trap” and will have the staying power of other helping professions. 


Whitworth, L., Kimsey-House, H. & Sandahl, P. (2007).  Co-Active Coaching, 2nd Edition: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and, Life, 2nd edition.  Palo Alto, CA:  Davies-Black Publishing.

Kauffman, C. (2005).  De-mystifying research:  an introduction for coaches.  In Coaching Research Symposium.  Eds:  Stein, Campone & Page.  Washington, DC:  International Coach Federation publisher.

Stober, D. & Grant, A. (2006) Evidence Based Coaching Handbook: Putting Best Practices to Work for Your Clients. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.


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Senia Maymin 15 May 2007 - 12:51 am

Margaret, these is exactly the type of article that resonates with me:

In reading it, I had all these half-insights – a lot of things I know on the pos psych side, and sounds familiar on the coaching side – really glad you put the two of them together. Thank you. I believe this may be part of the Margaret Greenberg BE-DO-KNOW series. 🙂

Dr. Zina Suissa 10 February 2009 - 12:37 pm

To: Margaret Greenberg

Hi Margaret,
I have already written to Emma Judge who also rights a column.
I am a psychologist and professor in Montreal.
I am very interested in coaching. Are there any courses online….
Thank you inadvance for any help that you can offer.
Dr. Zina Suissa

Margaret 10 February 2009 - 12:56 pm

I’m not familiar with any on-line courses, however, I would highly recommend the Coaches Training Institute (www.thecoaches.com) that is recognized by the International Coaching Federation.

Editor K.H.B. 10 February 2009 - 2:31 pm

You could also review the list of courses accredited by the International Coach Federation: http://www.coachfederation.org/research-education/search-coach-training-programs/

One program that might fit your background is MentorCoach, since it is intended for people in helping professions:

There’s a wide variety in teaching methods, hours, practice, advice about setting up a business, how far the program takes you toward certification, etc..

Good luck

Judy Krings 30 September 2010 - 6:20 pm

Ditto, kind Editor, K.H.B.

I am proudly MentorCoach Program (MCP) trained. When I began coach training, after 3 decades as a clinical psychologist in private practice, I thought my mission was ICF certification and a new, transition career. I had no idea incredibly life-expanding MCP relationships would become one the most positive joys in my life. MCP is a community of delightfully open, creatively gifted, and generously kind and loving coaches. I count many of them as close and loyal friends. I bless the day I found them.


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