Recently I became aware that there is some confusion about the difference between a coach and a consultant. Why does it matter? You could waste valuable time and money if you head into a contract not being totally clear about whom you’ve hired and the services they offer. Seven years ago, when I was engaged in my very first coaches’ training, I had a “practice client”, a clinical social worker, who thought we were just going to talk every week for an hour and that I would give her advice about making changes in her life. This couldn’t have been more “wrong”. She didn’t realize that there would be “work” involved and that the changes would be self-generated, not determined by me. Shame on me for not fully explaining what she was getting into, but then I have the excuse that I was “new” at this myself!
Let’s look at the difference. Though there are some individuals who call themselves coach-consultants, there are also very clear distinctions between a coach and a consultant.
Let’s start with certification and licensing. The New York State Division of Professional Licensing has no regulations or licensing governing coaching or consulting. Theoretically, anyone can read a book or take a weekend workshop and call themselves a coach or consultant. If a coach or consultant tells you that they are “licensed” or “certified” this credential was likely issued by their training institute or college certification program giving them “permission” to use the processes, courses and/or programs of that institute or school. If they are licensed psychologist or attorney, as well as a coach or consultant, this should be clearly stated in their credentials.
There are many different kinds of professional consultants and their training may range from business marketing to setting up bookkeeping structures to legal counseling. The variations are endless. For instance, my husband is a “consultant” as a project manager specializing in water resources. There are many different kinds of coaching services available as well, ranging from personal coaching to relationship, health, career and business coaching and many specialties among the categories! Many coaches and consultants work with clients over the phone or internet, others in person, some do both. It is your job as a wise consumer to ask the right questions to determine what is best for your needs.
Here are some specifics: A consultant works with a client to provide a definite solution to a problem or challenge. A coach will ask a client powerful questions so that the client can find the solution themselves. In addition, sometimes a consultant will actually do the work for a client, while a coach challenges the client to create structures and action steps to do the work themselves.
Here’s a great example that I read recently that anyone can relate to, driving a car. A consultant will research and do comparisons of different cars and possibly recommend one based on what they know about you. The consultant may even drive the car for you or teach you how to drive it. A coach may educate you about why a car might be necessary for you to get where you want to go. A coach will help you figure out what’s preventing you from learning how to drive it and may partner with you by sitting in the passenger seat while you drive the car.
What should now be apparent is that a consultant is likely to give you advice, tell you how to do it and/or do it for you. A coach does not give advice, but will ask questions to elicit how you can make the greatest difference in your life and help you create a vision and plan to get there and support you along the way.
It is important for you to feel confident that your coach or consultant has the expertise that you need for your specific “problem”. Asking about the individual’s training and experience, as well as their “niche” is a great way to know if they will be able to help you. All coaches and consultants should be willing to offer you a complimentary conversation to determine if you are a good match in services and personality. Many professionals have a list of testimonials and references from their former clients; just ask. In terms of coaching, you, as the client, have to be “coachable”. What does “coachable” mean? It means that you must be self-generating and willing to do your own work with the support of your professional coach. If your preference for the problem at hand is to receive advice or have someone do the work for you, hire a professional consultant.