Clear Role

Part I of II

I ventured out this week for a much overdue, pandemic-delayed trip to the eye doctor. Afterward, while being fitted for new glasses, the optician asked what I do for a living. When I said, “I’m an executive coach,” he responded, “Oh, so you’re a consultant.”

This is a common misperception, as many people consider the two interchangeable. However, the big difference is consultants give advice, while coaches stay in inquiry – asking powerful questions that allow clients to determine their own actions.

[Note: There are some coaches who never answer a client’s question; however, I don’t draw such a firm line. If a client says, “What color is the grass?” there are coaches who will respond, “What color do you think it is?” That seems like a waste of valuable coaching time, so I say, “Most people think it’s green. What’s the reason you asked?”]

To help others better understand my profession, I’ll use the analogy of a six-year-old asking to learn to ride a bike… and include a couple of other disciplines for fun:

“A mentor would say, ‘Let me tell you about the time I learned to ride a bike.’ A therapist would say, ‘What happened when you were a four-year-old that is preventing you from riding this bike?’ A consultant would take the bike apart, put it back together, create a multi-page document, hand it to the kid and say, ‘That’s how you ride a bike.’ Me? I say, ‘What have you seen other kids do?’ and ask some more questions to discover what the youngster already knows – then give them an encouraging push.

Basically, a consultant’s role is to solve clients’ problems, while a coach works with them to explore what they want and discover from within how they’ll get there.

Next: Powerful Questions


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