Life coaching styles – Officer, Mother or Partner?

In setting up my life coaching practice, I have looked through numerous coaching, counselling, and therapy websites. They all provide very interesting insights into what life coaching is all about. I have always liked categorising concepts as a good starting point to making sense of things. So here is my take on the three categories of life coaching on the market:

The Military Officer

This type of coaches often state on their website that they are the ‘best’ in a particular field, area or approach. You pay. You show up. You do what you are told to do. Or they will give you a kick in the backside, which is what you need. Fees for this coaching style are typically very high. Or in fact, quite a number of them do not like to reveal exactly how much they cost. It is a magic number designed ‘just’ for you to maximise the effectiveness of coaching. Because the act of paying a noticeable chunk of money is in itself part of their coaching style that works.

This coaching style is likely to attract those who have had strict parents growing up. So having someone constantly on your back, monitoring your progress, and punishing you one way or another for lack of action may feel familiar and reassuring. It may even get some results. Though one has to examine how much of the style is borderline bullying and whether it is really for the client’s ‘own good’.

The military officer life coaching style

The Cuddly Mother

The cuddly mother life coaching style

This style of coaching is typically favoured by those feeling fragile and vulnerable, and just needing someone to listen to them. Don’t be fooled by the word ‘mother’. It doesn’t have to be a style reserved exclusively for female coaches. Remember, we all have masculine and feminine sides.

Everybody could do with a warming hug and some affirming words sometimes. It lets us tap into our inner child and stay there comfortably. This style of coaching is very soft and motherly. The coach-ee feels listened to and understood. Though it is debatable whether you would feel empowered and transformed. Because like with most mothers, once their child, always their child. Empowerment and transformation, however, require you to become an adult.

The Playful Partner

Now, this is a very interesting style. Instead of whipping you into action or showering you with parental affection, this coaching style feels very much like a game. In fact, you may not feel coached at all! You are merely ‘having a conversation’. Just like that time when you were having a discussion with a school mate about a mathematical problem and eureka! The solution came to you.

The playful partner life coaching style

A coach of this style feels more like a playmate. They are equal to you. They listen to you, reflect on your ideas, and share your excitement about those ideas. Unlike an ordinary playmate, however, the coach’s own needs do not come into the equation. Your relationship is centred around you, and rightly so.

I find this style of coaching the most empowering and enabling. You are treated as an independent, responsible adult. Being coached this way, you are much more likely to think creatively for yourself and to find the most satisfying answer to your question. Remember, you already have all the answers within you. A good coach is just someone who is adept at inspiring those answers out of you.


Everyone works differently. Each one of these styles has its merits and could drive the results you want at a particular stage of your life. Personally, I think the Military Officer and the Cuddly Mother are more suitable for short-term solutions, if you are clear about the exact result you want. For example, your goal may be to make sure that business proposal is put together by the end of the month. Or something that happened recently made you particularly emotional right now and you just need a pair of comforting ears to listen to you. Both needs are valid reasons to seek a coach.

The Playful Partner, however, can really stay alongside you and drive long-term results over and over again. Such a coaching relationship is scalable. It doesn’t stop when your business plan is done or when your tears have dried up. It is a consistent, committed partnership that brings out the best of you. It is a witness to your constant improvement and steps-up. Besides, who says a playmate can’t turn into a bossy captain or a sensitive parent once in a while, especially when you need them to?

Find out more about my coaching style.

Ellen Tang Coaching Ltd.


Call: +44 7537166866

City of London, UK / Stratford, London, UK

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