Q: What is the difference between a coach and a consultant? Do coaches need to be certified?
A: There are no regulations requiring coaches to be certified. Anyone can call themselves a coach. While some organizations require coaching certification, most consumers hire based on personal recommendation and gut instinct. However, leaders and HR business partners need to be clear that they expect coaching, not consulting, services.
So, what's the difference? Certified or not, professionally trained coaches should have shared understandings and ethical guidelines about what coaching is and isn't.
Coaches do not give advice. A consultant's role is to advise you on what they feel the best solution and strategy is for the situation at hand.
Coaches do more asking than telling. They engage you in identifying blind spots, developing new skills and perspectives, exploring multiple solutions and taking action to get the results you want. Coaches empower you rather than solving an issue for you.
The best coaches are not subject-matter experts. Many consumers mistakenly believe they should hire the coach with the most experience in their field or role. Coaches do their best work when they understand the language and challenges of your industry but are not limited by groupthink. Hire a coach to expand and deepen how you think about your challenges, not to tell you what they would do.
Coaches rarely meet with the boss alone. While consultants sometimes do to give progress reports, coaches often view separate meetings with the boss as creating an us vs. them mentality. Expect coaches to have a stakeholder interview with the boss early on to clarify expectations, and then to facilitate check-in meetings with "coachee" and boss.
Coaches recognize the danger of dual relationships. When leaders find a great coach, they often ask if the coach will work with others on their team. Professionally trained coaches tread cautiously in this area because biases and power dynamics can get in the way.
For more information, the International Coach Federation publishes ethical guidelines, coaching competencies and certification for coaches.
Stacey Larsen is an executive coach on faculty at the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business.