Clarifying Executive Coaching, Business Coaching, and Consulting

There is much confusion about the different advisory roles that a trusted advisor can play. This article seeks to explain the difference between Executive Coaching, Business Coaching, and Consulting.

However, the bottom line is that definitions are unimportant compared to two simple criteria for every business advisor: If you aren’t getting results for your clients while building strong business relationships, then it doesn’t matter what role you claim to play or how you define what you do.

Too many professionals worry too much about definitions and process instead of about results. For instance, some coaching and consulting training programs focus on the hours you have spent coaching before they certify you. This is a mistake because you might spend one minute with a client and help the client generate millions in value. Many coaches spend months with clients and only waste their time.

Similarly, prospective clients don’t wake up in the morning and say to themselves, “Hmmm, last week I had executive coaching. This week I think I’ll try a consultant and maybe next week I’ll work with a business coach.” They are looking for people who solve their most pressing problems and add tremendous value, and generally don’t care about labels. 

With that caveat in mind, here are some clarifications about various business advisory roles:

First, Business Coaches tend to work with small to medium sized businesses, usually working directly with the business owner. They focus heavily on growing revenues and increasing profits, with a tactical focus on sales growth, financial reporting, developing systems, and hiring and motivating the right people and talent. Their work is often “nuts and bolts” in terms of putting systems, metrics, and accountability in place. The best business coaches also take a look at the client’s business strategy and help to develop a unique, meaningful competitive edge. A typical business coaching engagement might begin with an in-depth assessment of the business and then shift to weekly or bi-weekly coaching sessions.

Executive Coaches may provide business coaching, but tend to focus on higher level leadership and motivational skills with their clients. Because Executive Coaches often work in larger organizations, they help their clients become more influential, build their power base, and focus on attitudes and behaviors that achieve results in complex political environments. Top Executive Coaches have a rich tool box that includes leadership assessments, behavioral improvements, improvements in attitude, tools to improve decision making and strategic clarity, organizational development, and much more.

Management Consultants often bring a team of analysts in and perform detailed assessments on behalf of their clients. Then they make specific recommendations for their clients to follow, while making themselves available to help implement. Often consultants also serve as coaches to their clients, although they tend to do much more analysis and work on behalf of their clients than coaches do.

All three roles work hard to have their clients develop sustainable improvements in their skills and performance. It is really the emphasis and structure of the engagement that might vary.

My recommendation is that you not focus on calling yourself one specific, bound role. Rather, focus on getting results for your clients by developing the best structure and process for your client’s needs, budget, and situation.

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