I often am asked what the difference is between coaching and consulting and here is the best explanation I’ve heard:


Coaching is helping people to find their own answers.

Consulting is helping people by providing answers or advice.


The interesting thing is that what would be considered taboo in one discipline is exactly what is needed in the other. In coaching, you strictly avoid giving advice of any kind. In consulting, you would generally avoid going into areas where you don’t have direct experience or expertise. I find that spending time in the gray areas of coaching helps me be a better consultant and gaining expertise as a consultant helps me formulate better questions as a coach. I straddle the line between the two, which puts me in an interesting position with clients, where I have to be very clear with them which hat I’m wearing. If I’m stepping further into the coaching realm, I’m focusing asking on powerful questions to help someone gain clarity, plan strategically, take action or celebrate something they’ve achieved. When I’m in the consulting world I’m focusing on listening to the client’s needs and using the expertise and experience I have to offer suggestions on how they might handle a particular situation, how they might structure a presentation or what their wardrobe would need to look like for them to meet society’s expectations of someone in their role. Both approaches help clients move forward, just in different ways. Both help clients accelerate their development.


If you’re considering professional help, here are a few things to consider:


  1. Do you need direct advice? Consulting. For example, a CEO I was recently working with for their transition from VP to C-suite needed organizational and operational advice. While I could coach them on their own thoughts around this, I don’t have direct experience or expertise in organizational development and so I advised them to find a consultant who could give them the specifics he needed. One of the best things a consultant or coach can offer is a referral to another professional when something is out of their wheelhouse – I’ve even referred clients to therapy in the past when it became clear that they needed that deeper level of support.


  1. Do you need ongoing support? Coaching. Information is great, but only if you can actually apply it. Some consultants are great at knowledge transfer, but can’t actually support clients through the longer term of application and execution. For example, I worked with a client who had taken some coursework in leadership but wasn’t consistently applying the principles in their day to day and was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the volume of information. Through coaching, we parsed out which skills were important to develop and in which order and worked systematically with their day to day responsibilities to elevate their leadership game.


  1. Do you want to accelerate your results? Both. Having someone who takes a coach approach to consulting or has experience in both can be useful for those times when you’re seeking to do something you’ve never done before – for example, a client I was working with wanted her company to create a very specific role for her, but she needed to work on her mindset as well as show her abilities, which is a slower process that isn’t just advice based. She needed to be able to demonstrate leadership capabilities, speak clearly about them to show her value to the company and hold fast when they offered her a promotion that wasn’t exactly the right thing. In this case, both coaching and consulting were the needed solution to give her the information and to keep her on track.


In my own professional life, I’ve found both consulting and coaching (and therapy) to be useful, at different times, and it’s been helpful 99% of the time. Where could you, your teams or someone you know benefit from some help?