Difference Coaching and Consulting: Consultants Give Advice

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    The following post was posted by Carter McNamara in the LinkedIn group, International Coach Federation. There are two responses following Carter’s post.

    What do you think are the differences between coaching and consulting?

    Carter’s Original Post

    It seems that many coaches distinguish coaching from consulting by asserting that consultants “give advice” to clients and coaches “work from the inside-out” with clients.

    That’s a misconception about consulting.

    Peter Block’s book, “Flawless Consulting,” is the basis for several prominent consulting training programs. The book is considered a seminal writing about consulting.

    He defines consulting as “You are consulting any time you are trying to change or improve a situation, but have no direct control over the implementation (p. v). That definition fits coaching, too — so coaches are consultants, too.

    Good consultants can use a variety of roles, depending on the nature and current needs of the client, including giving advice, training, facilitating, asking generative questions, etc.

    Trainers, facilitators, advice-givers, and coaches call all work with people “from the inside-out” — no one has to accept the advice from the “outside,” i.e., from anyone in these roles — you can’t teach someone something if they don’t want to learn.

    I’m not trying to be contentious — I’m just trying to get us to question what might be an overly simplistic assertion about consulting.

    Romain Bisseret’s Response to Carter

    It’s not because a coach can fit in the definition of a consultant that the reverse is true. And as I read this definition, I’m not so sure it fits. As a coach, I’m not trying to change or improve anything, the client is. I’m here to support her/him to do so in her/his own way, tapping into her/his own resources.

    In my book, indeed, a consultant cannot fit in the definition of a coach, because of many reasons. And amongst them, is the fact that a consultant tells/shows/recommends how to do something. Another difference is, the consultant is most of the time hired for his knowledge of the field per se, and therefore acts as an authority figure, whereas the coach is hired mainly because of her/his skills as a coach (of course, a good knowledge of the field, too), but is equal to the client in the relationship.

    As for advice given by the consultant, that doesn’t mean the client then has to execute them, but the consultant would have done his job. In the last company I worked as a coach, that was very clear: they had consultants for guiding them through change, whereas I was there to coach employees in finding their own solutions/places in the changing environment.

    Romain can be reached at http://www.linkedin.com/company/in-excelsis.

    Karen Kane’s Response to Carter

    I agree that the distinction between coaching and consulting that you describe is overly simplistic. In the discussions I hear in the coaching world, I rarely hear recognition of the distinction between the expert coaching model and the process coaching model. Yes, there are some consultants who give advice or are hired for their technical knowledge, but there are also many consultants out there who work from a more process-oriented model, where collaboration with the client is paramount.

    It seems to me that it’s less important to have opposing definitions of coaching and consulting, and more important to focus on clarity of roles at any given time with a particular client. Whether a client calls me a coach or a consultant, my job is to help them develop capacities that they don’t currently have, so that they can produce results that are currently unavailable to them. I don’t subscribe to the view that clients have all the answers that they need inside of them – none of us knows what we don’t know – so I see offering new ways of seeing and thinking about a situation as part of what good coaches do. Good consultants, too.

    Karen can be reached at http://stillpointleadership.com.

    For more resources, see the Library topic Personal and Professional Coaching.


    Carter McNamara, MBA, PhD – Authenticity Consulting, LLC – 800-971-2250
    Read my blogs: Boards, Consulting and OD, and Strategic Planning.