If you’re anything like me, I’ll bet you’ve heard people refer to you as something you’re not. “Oh, Andrew? Yes, he’s a mentor for professionals.” Or, “I know Andrew – he’s some sort of business consultant.”
Like you, I am a coach. I would not call myself a mentor or a consultant. They are very different beasts; however, people often confuse the meanings of these terms, to the point where, in a general sense, they are often considered to be the same thing.
Having grown tired of correcting your friends and colleagues, there may have been times when the thought, “maybe I am what they say” has crossed your mind. I’m here to help you navigate your way through this terminology so that, at the very least, your identity as a coach is clear to you, even if it isn’t always clear to others.
In order to understand the differences between coaching, consulting and mentoring, it is important to understand the definitions of each.
COACH (Noun, Verb): (Noun) – one who instructs or trains. (Verb) – coached; coaching; coaches. (Intransitive verb) – to instruct, direct or prompt. (Transitive verb) – to train intensively (as by instruction and demonstration).1
First of all, it’s important to note that the word ‘coach’ can be both a noun and a verb. It is a vocation and an action – something you are and actively do in equal measure. As a coach, you are an instructor, a trainer. However, I think the key word in the above definition is ‘prompt’ – you are a prompter – a coaxer.
With pure coaching, you are not there to give your client the answers – the answers come from the client. The nature of ‘doing’ coaching comes from prompting your client to address the challenges they face by asking the right questions. You help them to examine the behaviors that may contribute to their woes. Together you can then formulate a plan of action to improve things in a way that works best for them.
CONSULTANT (Noun): 1) one who consults another; 2) one who gives professional advice or services : EXPERT.2
This is where coaching differs from consulting. A consultant is usually an expert in a particular field – a renowned specialist hired for their knowledge so that the client may draw from this.
A coach is not necessarily an aficionado of a client’s business. A coach is more about the methodology rather than the specifics. You may find that you have worked with clients who faced similar struggles. The difference is, unlike a consultant, you don’t have to have a PhD, professional qualification or previous experience in the industry your client works in.
MENTOR (Noun): a trusted counsellor or guide.3
Mentoring being confused with coaching is easily explained. The key element here is time. Coaching is often a relationship with a set duration agreed at the outset; whereas mentoring is an ongoing, longer-term relationship. A mentor acts as a trusted advisor – a friend of the client with knowledge of their backstory and personal traits, who is called upon regularly.
Striking a Balance
Of course, there is no law that says you can’t incorporate elements of all three into your coaching mix. The secret is longevity. Cultivating long-term relationships with your clients will enable you to become a ‘combination coach’ – an achievement entirely possible with the right tools and frameworks at your disposal.
With all this in mind, it makes sense that these terms are often lumped together as meaning the same thing. By combining all three into one, you could find yourself with a very potent recipe for success – and less frustrated at social gatherings when your profession comes up in conversation.
Andrew Neitlich is the founder and director of the Center for Executive Coaching, a leading coach training organization based in Central Florida. Neitlich is author of five books and received his MBA from Harvard Business School.
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