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Drive with a Coach or a Consultant?

  • “She’s a senior executive, having problems with a couple of the men on her team. Her management style would be more effective if she could be more forceful with them.”
  •  “The Executive Director is very stressed out with the new demands of the job and we don’t want to lose him.”
  • I don’t know if this manager understands their role. They need to manage their people, not befriend them.”
  • If you can’t help them change their behavior, we may have to fire them. A new boss means new standards of performance and they don’t seem to understand that while they are very good technically, they are woefully substandard inter personally.”

Many professionals use the terms “Coach” and “Consultant” interchangeably, I don’t. So I always pause before I answer when someone asks me if I’m a Coach.

People aren’t all that interested in what I think the difference is; they just want to know if I can help them. Definitions of Coaching and Consulting aren’t really set in stone. In fact, in the corporate environment thy often overlap. The difference however is significant and important to understand. Once I learn more about what a potential client is seeking, we can then determine if it makes sense to move forward and work together.

They Have Potential

Whether you blame or praise the Human Potential Movement, it has done a lot to raise the visibility of Coaching. Common in athletics, coaching grew in popularity for businesses as the rate of change picked up speed. Professionals saw a need for support in keeping up with the shifts and the demands for productivity. Once left to professionals in the Organizational Development field, the doors opened wider due to the demand.

In the last several years the field has exploded to include all aspects of life. With that expansion has come the growth of the coaching industry which offers people a variety of ways to get certified as a coach. Oprah has had a variety of Coaches from Life guru Cheryl Richardson to Diet Guru Bob Greene, and Financial maven Suze Orman.  Any athlete who wants to improve looks to their coach to help them advance their performance. I’m betting you know people who have hired coaches to help them with their job search, networking, or running their business.

Here is my take on the difference between coaching and consulting, why it matters to me, and why it should matter to you:


  • Improves your business by doing defined, performance based work for you. It helps your organization by bringing in an expert to perform a specific task that improves things is a measurable or observable way.
  • Is about a project: Consultants bring expertise and experience to you. While you work through decisions together with a Consultant, you are the person that has the responsibility for the project and the outcome. The Consultant provides guidance, information, and options.
  • Works best when you need an expert in the relationship. A Consultant can do most or all of project after you have determined exactly what a successful outcome looks like. You can work together to learn the skills needed, which will come in handy when the consultant departs, and you have all of the responsibility for the outcome.
  • Consultants have expertise that can get you to the result you seek faster. Consultants can work with you for a short time to achieve specific goals or you can develop a partner-like relationship and work together on a variety of projects over time.


  • Empowers you and trains you to make your business successful. It helps you become a better leader, a better professional, and teaches you to be proactive in managing.
  • Is about YOU: your goals, your dreams, and your aspirations.  You have the answer and ability within you and the Coach helps that ability and answer emerge. Coaching is personal. You may have some limiting beliefs or ineffective habits or behaviors that need to be examined or changed. A good Coach can help you do that. They encourage, applaud, support, and push you to accomplish your goals and enhance your performance.
  • Works best when you know what you want to do but are unclear about the best way to do it.


The Coach will help you understand how and why you should drive a car, help you figure out what might be holding you back from driving, driving well, or driving more often, and be in the car the next time you drive somewhere.

The Consultant will explain why one car is better than another, teach you how to drive, and if necessary, drive the car for you.

So your Coach teaches you how to drive. Once you know how to drive, you will know if and when you need to hire a Consultant to help you consistently win drag races.

So Elaine wants help with a project –

  • A Coach can help her explore her feelings and actions to see what might be holding her back from moving forward effectively. The Coach will help Elaine examine failure and celebrate success.
  • A Consultant will show Elaine different techniques and methods. Elaine will decide how much she will take on and how much the Consultant will take on. The Consultant may create a process or outline possible strategies. Elaine’s Consultant will celebrate the success they created together.

Coaches’ help people achieve and Consultants are hired for their expertise. Both work for the success of their Clients.

It helps to be a knowledgeable consumer. People who describe themselves as a Coach or a Consultant should have the credentials, experience and qualifications that earn them the moniker. Using the label ‘coach’ or ‘consultant’  should not be the only qualifier.

Within each category, there are many of areas of expertise. There are Executive Coaches, Career Coaches, Life Coaches, and Business Coaches. There are Management Consultants, Training Consultants, Organizational Development Consultants, and Human Resource Consultants. So you should first and foremost be very clear about what you want. You should be able to define your goals and objectives when exploring the process or the outcome.

Be a good consumer. Ask the person you are talking to if they can provide you with what you want. Ask for examples and references. Some people use the terms Coach, Consultant, or even Counselor interchangeably, and that can be problematic.

Neither Coaching nor Consulting should be confused with therapy. A good professional Coach or Consultant recognizes the warning signs and should refer the prospective client to a qualified mental health professional.

Most of the time I’m a Consultant. I’m a Counselor by educational training. Every once in a while I provide a hybrid model: I offer advice and expertise when it’s needed, motivation and idea generations when clients get stuck, and insight to create a more effective professional and organization.

Before you talk to anyone about coaching, consulting or driving a car – think about the outcomes you want to see. To quote Yogi Berra – “If you don’t know where you are going, you could end up some place else.”  And you might not even know it!

This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 14th, 2017 at 8:32 pm. Both comments and pings are currently closed.