Tools for Coaching Mastery

This column is provided by an IAC Coaching Masteries®-Licensed School or Mentor.

What Does Coaching Mastery Even Mean?
by Julia Stewart, IAC-CC

Photo by: Tinyfroglet

That’s a question I’ve been obsessed with since early 2007 when I was preparing to launch the School of Coaching Mastery. Since then, I’ve discovered a tremendous amount about coaching and mastery. Most importantly, I’ve developed a keen appreciation for why coaching mastery matters so much, especially right now.

Here are some useful definitions of mastery:

  • Thomas Leonard, the founder of coaching, defined mastery as, "Creating the next iteration of your craft."
  • George Leonard, who wrote the book on Mastery, said, "At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path."
  • I love both of these definitions, plus another that’s closely aligned to what Seth Godin calls, "sprezzatura." which he says is "…an archaic Italian word for being able to do your craft without a lot of visible effort. It's a combination of élan and grace and class, sort of the opposite of loud grunts while you play tennis or a lot of whining and fuss when you help out a customer."

Sprezzatura is what you get when you’ve been on the path to mastery for about 10,000 hours, which is the number that bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell says it takes to master anything. Practice for 10,000 hours and "creating the next iteration of your craft" becomes easy—or at least possible.

From a coaching standpoint, more importantly, that’s when fantastic results are most likely to happen for your clients. And the point of coaching mastery is fantastic client results, not passing a certification exam. The exam just helps confirm it. But you knew that.

It takes passion, or a bullwhip, to stay with anything for 10,000 hours. Bullwhips don’t work very well in coaching, so I recommend that you love coaching passionately if you want to travel that path to mastery. Interestingly, passion instantly upgrades your coaching anyway, giving it power long before you’re a "master."

However, even passion wanes, so make sure your habitat is one that evolves you in the direction you want to go. That’s one of the values of IAC certification. Working towards it gives you a benchmark, one that is really high compared to most coaching standards.

The IAC Coaching Masteries® are an attempt to describe what coaching mastery looks like, now; you could say they describe coaching sprezzatura. As the profession evolves—and it’s evolving incredibly fast—the Masteries will evolve to reflect the next iteration of our craft.

I also recommend getting on the path to mastery early, for obvious reasons. If you do the math, 40 hours per week of coaching for one year only adds up to about 2,000 hours. Great training and feedback from qualified coaches can speed up the process, but nobody ever became a masterful coach without tons of practice. And intriguingly, the path to competence or even to proficiency has a distinctly different quality from the path to mastery.

Why does it matter if you are a masterful coach? Fantastic results for your clients are reason enough, but be aware that one of the ways coaches are changing the world is by sharing coaching skills with other people and professions. That means people in all walks of life are learning to coach and many are doing it for free. So if you want people to pay you for coaching so you can have a sustainable practice, you need to be practicing your craft at an incredibly high level. Sprezzatura or bust!

Plus, passionate masterful coaches are simply magnetic. People seek them out and pay thousands of dollars just to work with them for a short time. And the more they coach, the further they progress on that mastery path.

Given that the path to mastery involves tons of practice, you might wonder what gives me the nerve to call my school the School of Coaching Mastery. It’s not that we possess the last word on coaching. Nobody ever will. And it’s not because we use the distinction between competent, proficient and masterful coaching to put a fine point on what is sprezzatura and what isn’t. It is all about the passionate coaches who join us and get right on that path to mastery, practicing it daily and living it 168 hours per week. Sometimes they’re so good, they almost scare me.

That is what makes ours a School of Coaching Mastery.


By Julia Stewart, IAC-CC, President of, the first school licensed to teach the IAC Coaching Masteries®. Julia is a coach, coach trainer and seminar leader who uses her creativity and humor to expand people’s thinking and inspire them to work brilliantly.

2 thoughts on “Tools for Coaching Mastery”

  1. Julia,
    Thanks for this article. I really like it.
    Your ideas about mastery fit so perfectly with the vision we are clarifying for the IAC. Mastery is not a final destination but a continuing journey; a process driven by passion!

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top

IAC Login