There are many differences between a coach and a consultant, although, at first glance some of them may not be obvious, especially in the context of business. One way of thinking about it is to compare the following scenarios where the goal is to integrate horse riding into your life / business:
Working with a coach would support you to identify exactly why you are keen to learn to ride a horse, and to develop an understanding of how to go about it, and identify things that may help you or challenge you while learning to ride a horse. They wouldn’t tell you how to ride though. The coach would ask questions and provide feedback that would help you recognise breakthroughs, and setbacks (such as your first fall), as well as areas you need to work on the next time you ride.
You would bring in a consultant to provide an overview of the benefits, given your needs, of certain horse breeds, and make recommendations of what you need to look for when you purchase one, as well as some of the risks of riding. They would provide guidelines how to go about buying, and then riding your horse. If required the consultant would also demonstrate the finer points of equitation, and if requested, initially ride your newly purchased horse for you.
The scenarios help illustrate that with coaching, the professional relationship between the coach and the coachee requires one to ‘walk beside’ the other in their context, while the coachee undertakes a professional learning journey. The coachee is seen as whole, motivated, and having the resources within them; the coach facilitates a process which helps surface and structure the coachee’s strategies and ideas, but the coach does not provide advice. Mistakes are framed as things to be learned from, so trying things differently is seen as positive. Change is often quickly realised, and is part of a cumulative development toward increased insights, skills, and possible shifts in beliefs and professional identity.
Most people will, on the other hand, bring in a consultant for advice around a specific focus. In doing so the consultant might provide solutions for existing issues, identify risks and possible mitigations. Where required, they might also develop a high-level strategic plan (which could include guidelines for managing change) to achieve outcomes based on their client’s needs. This is an ‘expert model’ where the consultant has extensive, up-to-date, research-informed knowledge about a specific area, and so will be able to suggest answers / solutions, examples of effective practice in other contexts, and associated implications. The client is viewed as capable and resourceful, but needing guidance. A consultant might (initially) head up the initiative, although their involvement is sometimes (but not always) viewed as short-term with the client moving on to implement the plan, either heading it up themselves or working with a team.
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