It can be challenging to determine if you and your business would benefit most from the services of a coach or a consultant as you navigate the road ahead. With so many choices in the business world today, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two very different roles. This challenge is exacerbated by the liberal use of the title “coach” by many service professionals who are functioning as consultants. Having worked as a consultant for over a decade before becoming a coach, I can tell when I have my coaching hat on, or if it slips off and the consultant sneaks out. Here are three key distinctions between a consultant and a coach:
1. Consulting is problem-driven. Coaching is purpose-driven.
Problems and projects are the territory of the Consultant, so it’s important they have experience doing the work they are hired for. Considered a “subject matter expert”, the consultant’s role is to provide recommendations on how to fix a problem or achieve a predetermined goal. Depending on the contract, the work of some consultants ends right there: identify the problem and provide recommendations. Generally the success rate of this type of consulting is low, so many consultants become involved in training and implementation.
When I consulted in the automotive industry, the project I was typically hired for was to set up a call center in the Service Department. This project was often the solution to a number of problems: phone calls not answered in a timely manner, inconsistent communication with the customers, chaotic appointment schedules, low customer satisfaction scores and customer retention challenges. I had a set of best practices, experience with the complicated computer systems in the car dealership environment, and the relationship skills to help management and front line employees through times of change. Some of the time I was being coach-like, but the majority of my time was spent troubleshooting and problem-solving.
The biggest misconception of coaching is it’s for people or businesses with problems. Nothing could be further from the truth. The cycle of desire is the foundation of the relationship between a coach and their player. A coach partners with a business owner or leader who has the desire to play bigger in their business game. A great player is actively seeking the type of change that will push their boundaries. They are driven by a sense of purpose and want to close the gap between their big picture vision of themselves and their current state of affairs. The partnership between a coach and their player is just as essential in business as it is in sport.
2. Consulting is a business pursuit. Coaching is a personal pursuit.
Because consultants are hired by leaders to solve business problems, the solutions are handed down the organizational chart or from the consultant themselves, who is by definition an outsider. The consultant’s impartiality can be a tremendous asset when coupled with great solutions, but implementation is everything when it comes to long-term sustainable success. One of the greatest challenges of my consulting work was attempting to ensure that the change was not entirely dependent upon my continued presence. Sustainability is not attainable if the needs of the people are not in line with the needs of the business.
It is impossible to achieve sustained results consulting the business without coaching the people; because people show up as who they are wherever they go. A great coach will help their player see things in themselves that they cannot see alone. A coach does not simply give instructions or provide direction. The purpose of the coach is to help our player define their big game and get them into action. When a player is in action, their coach helps to expand their awareness and capabilities. A coach asks powerful questions, listens actively and communicates directly with their player as they meet the challenges of their game. And the bigger the game, the bigger the challenges.
3. A Consultant helps people work better. A Coach helps people play bigger.
Consulting is a necessary, if traditional role. Businesses have specific challenges and there are people who know the solutions and how to communicate them. If your focus is a problem, processes or tools, hire a subject matter expert with great communication skills. If your goal is to do big things with your business and take it and you into new territory, hire a coach.
Entering new territory means becoming more masterful. Becoming more masterful means stretching and growing. Stretching and growing means practicing by getting out of your comfort zone. Getting out of your comfort zone means there’s an excellent chance it’s gonna get ugly if you do it alone! All great athletes have a coach to help them play better. They don’t go it alone once they have achieved success. Wouldn’t you rather enter new territory knowing your unique super-powers with someone who’s got your back? Yesterday I called my coach to do a “gut-check” on an idea that had me bouncing off the walls with excitement. I picked up the phone because in our previous session we had updated my Game Design for the next 90 days. I wanted to make sure this idea was consistent with the plan. I’ve gone down my share of rabbit holes in my days before coaching and all I can say is “No more wasting time, energy or resources!”
I enjoyed my years of consulting because I made it about the people, but I found my passion through coaching. If you want to grow your business, you have to grow yourself first. Because our businesses are extensions of ourselves, the best arena for personal evolution is the business game. In my experience, there is no board-breaking, fire-walking alternative to having a coach who will both challenge and support you in the game of your desire; and who always has your back.