Coaching vs. Consulting

by marilyn on October 12, 2008

In an earlier post, I wrote about the difference between a “coach” and a “counselor.” The difference between “coaching” and “consulting” is even more interesting.

Let’s think figure skating. The “Coach” is literally on the ice with the skater during practice (performance improvement) but the choreographer or “Consultant” is hired to create the program, possibly tweak it with the skater and coach but then has little to do with how it is performed. In fact (and I only know this because when my daughter was younger and aspiring to figure skate, we spent time at the Skating Club of Boston with some top competitors like Paul Wylie) often the skater and coach change the choreography dramatically to better fit the needs and requirements of that skaters skating style AND knowledge of the competition!

Much money is spent on management consultants for instance, who come in with undoubtedly extraordinary ideas but don’t stay “on the ice” with the skaters. I’ll avoid any analogy to “skating on thin ice” but real time anything is very different from boardroom theory. We have only to look at the results of all those allegedly well-intentioned folks who have contributed to our economic woes to understand that. I personally want someone by my side to say, “watch those edges,” “think,” “you know what you need to do. . . now just do it!”

Let’s also not forget about coaching teams. One of my favorite things at the skating club was watching the women’s precision skaters. I loved watching them. The end skaters, for instance, need to skate furiously to make a circle while the center skaters turn in place. Everyone has their unique style and their pace as an individual skater but as a team, it is the working together that counts. The precision skating team coach never addressed skating style (“bend those knees more,” “jump higher,” etc.) but, rather, addressed how they worked together (“Pretend the skater next to you is the most important person in the world and don’t let go!”). Some of the skaters would compete against each other in other events but here it was their performance as a group that mattered.

Coaches, by the way, do work with along with consultants. In IT, we work with the “people issues” that can make the difference between success and failure of projects and with individual executives and their challenges. We can assess and bring out people strengths, facilitate better planning and communication and help avoid costly project breakdowns. I credit Mike Harris of David Consulting Group ( for his vision in seeing this unique need in the software consulting industry, and hope, if you are reading this, that you will see it and think about whether it applies in your industry, too!

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