Coaching vs Consulting

Even Super Bowl Winners have a Coach

From time to time, you come across problems that you cannot solve on our own. You need help. And you call on your family, friends and professionals, typically in that order.

Professional Help

The professional help comes in various forms. When you know the problem and the path to a solution, you can engage a contractor or a partner to resolve it. However, the most common relationship is a CONSULTANT, who is brought in to solve a specific problem. The consultant has either resolved the same situation previously or has some tools and methods that can be used to address your situation. If you are not clear on what is the real problem, you call on an ADVISOR, who has enough experience and wisdom that they help you identify the real problem you must solve.

There is another form of help – COACHING. A coach swings across all of these roles helping you build the competency to identify and solve problems yourself in the future.

  1. Plays the role of an advisor, helping you define the problem when you need to,
  2. Plays consultant, helping you come up with solutions,
  3. Plays a partner, working by your side to actually solve the problem.

For example, a sports coach helps the team, think strategically on how to win the game, helps build the strength to outperform, stays on the ground providing tactical advice, and provides critical feedback. They are not necessarily better players, but they are able to connect with the player in a manner to help the player improve the game and win the match.


A coach is always by your side, happy when you win, and empathic when you lose. A coach also gets upset at you when he or she needs to do so for your good, so you can win. The relationship with a coach is at an emotional and business purpose level rather than a transactional level. The consulting activity is transactional in nature, whereas the coaching activity is development and hence more diverse. Most of the time the consultants know the subject more than the client and can outperform the client. Whereas a coach knows how to make a client outperform their perceived capability, even when they are not the subject experts. A coach is vested in a client, much more than a consultant who is vested in the task.

The value brought on by a consultant is generally visible and tangible in form of a solution report over a finite time, and happens at the pace of consulting contract. The value delivered by a coach is form of a competency –intangible and invisible, is over a longer duration happening at the pace of the client, and generally longer lasting, even after the coach is gone. Another thing what Coach does, is builds strong teams. Teams with a shared purpose, teams with a common goal, teams that are committed to winning.

Solves Client’s problemBuilds client’s competency to solve the problem
Transaction relationship, finite duration, with defined deliverable and closureEmpathic relationship, longer lasting, with no defined end point
Tangible, visible, explicit solution outcomeIntangible, invisible, implicit competency building
Expected to be more competent than the client on the subject of transactionsExpected to make the client more competent than client believes possible on their subject
Protective of his skills, tools and tricksShares his magic to develop client
Vested in the task outcomeVested in client success
Solution speed controlled by the consultantDevelopmental pace controlled by the client

Wrong Number

When a consultant is hired in place of a coach: The consultant comes in and solves a visible problem; engagement continues and the client is expecting to develop the competency to be self-sufficient. Consultant is protective of his/her skills. Client is disappointed. Engagement comes to an abrupt end. Consultant makes more money than expected, but won’t get referrals. Client is left with a bad experience. 

When a coach is hired in place of a consultant: The Coach comes in and gets busy developing competency towards self-sufficiency. Client gets impatient waiting for a solution, and pulls the plug prematurely. Both are left with a bad experience.

I must also admit that there are no pure coaching or pure consulting engagements. Every coach does a bit of a consulting and every consultant does a bit of coaching during the engagement.  But as discussed above, a lot also depends upon the client recipient and communication of expectations upfront. The commonality across the two is a need for trust, confidence, and open communication. 


Consultant solves the problem – be it with a process, the team, or an organization; like a surgery or an antibiotic course to cures the disease. Coach builds the client skills to solve the problem; like physical therapy, or vitamins and supplements to build strength and immunity.

A book, “House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time” by Martin Kihn in 2005 really went after consulting business. There is some truth to it but that is the case of quality and ethics across any product in the market.  However, a coach will teach you how to read your watch and make the best use of your time.

Buyer beware, make the right choice and engage appropriately.