Four things that executive coaches can learn from a company President who hires lots of consultants

During a recent coaching session my client, the President of a publicly traded company, started listing all of the consulting firms he had hired to help him with specific problems. The list was long. His company, like many, uses lots of consultants. In the past few months he has hired different consulting firms for: an IT strategy, a branding strategy, a plan to replace the retiring CEO, a consultative selling benchmarking study, an employee culture survey, an international market assessment – and that’s only the ones that I can remember.

As he shared why his company hires so many consultants, I discovered some important takeaways for coaches.

First, note that his company easily spends 30 or 50 times more on consultants than on coaches. I would guess that this ratio is the same for many companies. The question for coaches is, “What can we do to level the playing field?”

The opportunity is there. For instance, many companies prefer a coaching/facilitation model to develop their strategic plans, compared to bringing in a huge and invasive consulting firm. In fact, a good portion of my coaching practice is about helping companies develop strategic plans, and then implement them effectively. I am seeing the same demand for coaching on succession planning, changing a culture, leading change, building high-performing teams, developing a board of directors, and merger implementation. (And the Center for Executive Coaching gives you methodologies and processes to deliver great results in these areas, among many others).

Even if we aren’t taking over the work of traditional consultants, we coaches still have big opportunities to increase our share of budget in companies.

So what does this mean for coaches? Here are four ideas:

One: This might seem obvious, but if consulting is in so much more demand, shouldn’t coaches also offer consulting? The most successful professionals I know offer a range of solutions to clients, including both coaching and consulting – along with assessments, benchmarking, training, facilitation, and even interim management. You have to set your own boundaries about what you do and don’t do for clients, but the more value you can provide, the busier you will be with fewer clients, and the less you will have to chase new business. The bottom line: Focus more on solutions to problems and value, and less on titles like coach, consultant, or advisor.

Two: Consultants are very good at focusing on problems they solve rather than pitching consulting as a good thing in and of itself. In contrast, coaches tend to evangelize coaching as something everyone should be getting. Many coaches market themselves as follows: “Executive coaching provides a great return on investment. Here are some studies that prove it. Be a better leader. Hire me.” That’s so backwards I want to laugh, and yet so common among coaches that I want to cry. Coaches should learn from consultants and focus on pressing challenges that they solve for their clients. No one wants to hire a consultant, and yet many people do. Why? Because, when they solve problems and bring value.

Three: Consultants provide a clear, efficient way to results. My client hires consultants because they can get the work done faster and better than anybody in his own company. Coaches offer the same advantage, but most coaches don’t know how to communicate that fact. For instance, when it comes to strategic planning, I have a 3-part coaching process that leads to a clear strategic plan, has the organization aligned, and it also gets executed. We teach this in the Center for Executive Coaching and you have a license to use this process – along with 27 other processes that solve pressing challenges for leaders and their teams. Too many coaches approach what they do as some sort of mystical process that involves listening, presence, and intuition – which is does – but that doesn’t show a clear and efficient pathway to big results. If you want to be more credible, whether as an internal or external coach, you have to be able to communicate how you get clients from Point A to Point B better than anybody else – in a way that gets the client’s attention. For coaches who attend other coach training programs, everything I just wrote will remain a big mystery to them.

Four: Consultants know how to engage senior leaders. Many coaches don’t feel comfortable or on equal footing with senior leaders, and so they work at low levels in organizations. Other coaches throw around jargon from pseudoscience or the latest coaching fads, evangelizing instead of asking great questions and understanding. If you want to do important work at the highest fees, you have to get comfortable engaging senior leaders in conversations that are about them and not about you or your coaching philosophy du jour. At the Center for Executive Coaching, we have the conversations required down almost to a science, and teach them to you.

The above thoughts sprung out of a coaching session with a client, and his willingness to engage consultants is similar many senior executives with whom I’ve worked. You might not like the above messages, or even being compared to consultants, but I believe that they are pretty accurate and can help you be a more successful coach.

If you want to learn how to engage leaders, managers, business owners, and up-and-coming talent as a top notch coach, we should talk. Visit our website at and let’s schedule time. Yes, we are accredited with the ICF and we also offer a path to Board Certified Coach certification. Our next in person Certification seminar is February 16-19, and you can join our distance program at any time.

If you are a seasoned coach, visit our website and click For Seasoned Coaches. You will discover some very affordable programs to up your game and your coaching practice.


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