Is there an ‘optimal blend’ of coaching and consulting?
Given both the benefits of adding consulting elements to a coaching approach and the associated risks or watchouts, what might be an optimal blend that best serves the client? Unfortunately there is no magic formula for how much coaching and how much consulting to use in any given situation. The optimal blend of coaching and consulting is likely to depend very much on the situation, as Cheryl Belles (2000) stated in her article where she originally put forward the idea of the bell curve. As Phillip Sandahl (2010) says, “Selecting which hat to wear in the moment is art, not science.”
In my own coaching model, I see opportunities to complement a pure coaching approach with an element of consulting:
- Clarity: what do I want? This involves supporting the client in clarifying his values and setting ambitious but achievable goals.
- Understanding: what’s holding me back? Here we dig deeper to identify and challenge limiting beliefs and to reframe disempowering perspectives.
- Strategies: what do I do? This is where we start addressing those obstacles and moving forwards with an action plan, as well as identifying and taking that first step.
- Progress: how do I sustain it? To create lasting change, the client sets up support structures and establishes accountability for himself.
Throughout the process, which of course is not necessarily going to be this linear, a pure coaching approach will be most empowering and effective for the client. It’s in the third stage, Strategies, that I see the biggest opportunity for shifting into consulting mode – where this is in alignment with what the client wants. In particular in my case this will be relevant where the client is working on setting up his own business and wants to tap into my branding and marketing expertise.
Most important, I believe, is setting expectations between the coach and client in the coaching agreement. It is the coach’s responsibility to clarify what her approach to coaching looks like, what the client can expect from her, and also what will not be part of that approach. In setting up the agreement, the client in turn needs to be clear on what he wants, if he wants a pure coaching approach or if he also wants elements of consulting where appropriate. This is true at the start and then also throughout the coaching relationship: the coach needs to be clear as to which ‘hat’ she is wearing in any given moment, and how that will best serve the client. Even in the moment of offering the advice or guidance from the perspective of an expert, it will be most effective if the coach makes it clear to the client that this is being offered simply as one more piece of information. That is, there is no obligation to take this as the ‘right’ course of action and the responsibility still rests with him as to how to proceed.
In an industry that remains unregulated, we can see significant variations in how coaching professionals position themselves as well as in the approach they take with clients. Pure coaching, as defined by the International Coach Federation and the International Coach Academy, puts the client fully in the driver’s seat, in charge of the agenda, and both responsible for and capable of coming up with his own answers. This approach can be an incredibly empowering experience for the client, as well as being effective in supporting him to achieve his objectives. There are, however, situations – depending on the context, the topic, the client and his objectives – where a blended approach that also includes a consulting element can be very powerful for the client.
For the client, a blended coaching approach that includes an element of consulting where appropriate can offer added value, providing answers to questions more quickly and accelerating action towards the client’s ultimate objective. From the coach’s perspective, a blended coaching approach allows the coach to leverage her prior experience and also to create a unique value proposition that differentiates her from other coaches. Her coaching skill set becomes one tool in her professional toolkit, which includes other skills and expertise that she can call upon where appropriate in the coaching relationship.
When a blended coaching approach is followed, as in any coaching relationship, it is important that the expectations are very clear on both sides. The coaching agreement, written and verbal, should state explicitly what the relationship will involve, what the client wants and on the other side what the coach will provide. Both coach and client should also make it clear in the moment if the situation warrants a pure coaching approach or if the client gives the coach permission to put on the ‘consulting hat’ and offer her perspective as expert on a particular topic. In that moment, it will be most effective if the client remains firmly in the driver’s seat, that is, if the client is still very much responsible for choosing what to do with this information, choosing the action to take. Sticking with the driving metaphor: most of the time the client will be in the driver’s seat and you are there to listen and support them as needed, not to be a backseat driver; as the person in the passenger seat, however, you’re not going to let your client drive off the road, and you may choose to step in when he asks you to and when you have information that is essential to his safety and well being!
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