A blended approach, therefore, might offer a helpful mix of the benefits of coaching with the added benefits of consulting. So what might be the criteria for deciding when such a blend of coaching and consulting might be appropriate?
- The coaching context: In a corporate environment, executives are likely to expect a degree of leadership experience and management expertise, while their employers who are after all paying for the coaching will also expect a coach to demonstrate tangible added value. Such expertise might be less important to a life coach working with someone on an individual basis in a non-professional context.
- The coaching topic: With individual clients, the coach’s expertise may be relevant in areas that are completely outside the client’s frame of reference. A client may be an expert on his own life, his own industry, but he may lack the specific skills and knowledge required, for example, to build a business, such as creating his brand, building a website and marketing his business to a target audience.
- The client: Where a coach is working with youth, the client in this case is not able to draw on his past in order to inform future actions as much as a more experienced adult is able to do so. Here, a more directive approach might be more appropriate than, for example, with a senior manager with decades of experience in both the professional and the personal spheres.
- The client’s objectives: Perhaps a client wants immediate answers and doesn’t have time for what could be a longer process of working with a coach. Likewise, an objective of wanting support for launching a business will likely warrant a more consultative approach than the objective of addressing mindset issues around money.
Another field or role worth considering here is that of mentoring or mentorship. To my mind this role falls somewhere in between that of a consultant and a coach, although of course different mentors will have different ways of working. At a basic level, a mentor brings expertise and experience in an area where the mentee wants to make progress. In my own experience, however, and considering the empowerment and sustainability that comes with a coaching approach, I would argue that the mentor would still do well to wear more of a coaching ‘hat’ in supporting the client to make his own decisions. I would always start from a coaching perspective: ask powerful questions to get the client thinking and let him try to come up with the solutions himself, given that he is the expert on his own business, his customers, and, most of all, his own strengths and skills. This will also ensure that he feels responsibility and ownership for his business decisions.
What are the risks or ‘watchouts’ associated with mixing coaching and consulting?
So why does it even matter? Why worry about what a professional is calling herself and what approach is actually being used with a client? It’s safe to assume that what both individuals and organisations ultimately care about is results, so what is the importance of whether those results come from consulting or coaching or some blend of the two? And with no formal regulation of the coaching industry and no restrictions on what we call ourselves, what does it matter if a professional labels herself as a ‘coach’, a ‘consultant’, or some combination of the two?
Although there is no univeral regulation of the coaching (or consulting) industry, there are a number of bodies working on establishing standards and principles, including the International Coach Federation. In order to successfully complete the credentialling process with such a body, it is important to be able to demonstrate ‘pure’ coaching in practice alongside an understanding of how that differs from other professions including consulting as well as therapy, training, and so on. Precisely because of the lack of regulation in the industry it becomes all the more important for coaches to uphold a standard of professionalism and ethics to maintain the credibility and reputation of the profession. In any case, it’s always advisable to know the rules before you choose to intentionally break them!
Most importantly, however, we need to think about what will best serve the client. In moving away from a pure coaching approach and introducing the coach’s own expertise, the client is effectively taken out of the driver’s seat and put into what is an inferior position in relation to the coach who is now The Expert. This can be quite disempowering for the client. Although it may be faster to give the answers directly (even assuming that those are the ‘right’ answers, which is a big and often incorrect assumption in itself), it may also prove to be only a ‘quick fix’ for the present situation, without creating any additional awareness or sustainable change.
According to John Whitmore (1992, cited in Ferrar, 2004), coaches who start to teach and instruct
deny their learners’ responsibility, by telling them what to do.
In fact, making explicit use of your experience and expertise might risk jeopardising the coaching relationship as a whole, as it becomes very tempting to simply step in and make recommendations in a slippery slope towards a fully consultative approach. As such,
the more rapidly a coach can move from a hands-on to a hands-off style, the faster improvement in performance will be achieved,
since performance is improved when
control and responsibility is transferred from the coach to the learner (Parsloe and Wray, 2000, cited in Ives, 2008).
The principles of adult learning, androgogy, also seem to support more of a coaching approach in effectively engaging adults: adults need to know what they will be learning (and in coaching they are the ones who own the agenda); they are self-directed and autonomous, and want to be treated as equals; and they have a wealth of prior experience that can be leveraged (Cox, Bachkirova & Clutterbuck, 2010). Between individuals, of course, there may be variations in terms of how we learn best. In fact, there are so many different permutations when it comes to learning styles, cultural differences, age, mindset, and so on, that Ferrar (2004) goes so far as to contend that
Even a ‘master’ coach will get it wrong now and then.