What’s the difference between a consultant and a coach? A consultant has the answers; a coach has the questions. (Perhaps a bit of an oversimplification!) How do business leaders know which they need most?
The Distinction Between Coaching and Consulting
The end result of coaching and consulting engagements may be the same – but you start from a different place. Coaching focuses on the individual, while consulting focuses on specific tasks or projects. Let’s take a deeper look:
We believe that you start from a perspective where there is nothing “wrong” with the individual. It’s not about correcting or remediating; its’ about helping them get to the next level, whatever that level may be. The coach works with the client to establish where they are now, and what they need to do to keep moving towards their objectives. It’s really about what the person’s goals are and what resonates with them.
The coach’s most powerful tool is questions. By asking thoughtful, targeted questions, they allow the client to explore – and to grow.
In the consulting world, you’re bringing your skills and knowledge to the table. The starting point is different: it’s, “We need to do something about this situation.” In consulting, there is a need to accomplish a specific task or objective. Examples of these may be: finish a major project, implement a change, integrate teams from merging companies, etc.
While consultants do ask questions, it’s not specifically to enable the client to explore. Rather it is so they can provide better answers. Their most powerful tool is their knowledge of the content and their technical skills. Again, it’s centered on the task, not the individual.
When Is One Approach Better?
When an individual is stuck, or held back in some way, coaching can provide an avenue for them to regain traction in their professional and/or personal life. For instance, a leader may face a number of options with regard to their career, but is not sure how to move forward. Coaching helps look for what resonates, what feels right for that person.
It also delves into the factors that are preventing them from progressing. Is it a lack of confidence? Fear of the unknown? By using questions as a tool, the client can discover the answers. The premise is that the answers are there, and they just need to explore them in a safe, supportive place.
Consulting, on the other hand, is a prescriptive approach. A leader might say (courageously), “I don’t know what to do about Situation X.” A consultant can help the client evaluate the situation and identify the next steps. Rather than exploration, it’s about data analysis, investigation, and finding the right way to move forward.
The client doesn’t have the answers. That’s why they need the expertise and experience of the consultant.
Sometimes, coaching and consulting work in tandem. It depends on how the relationship is framed and what the expectations are. The client and coach/consultant should be clear and upfront about needs and desired outcomes.
Both coaching and consulting can be powerful supports for leaders, and they may even lead to the same destination. The starting point, and the route, though, are very different.