Consulting vs. Coaching

yan maschke, strategy facilitation, team coaching, executive coaching, consulting, telling, leadership, cleveland ohio

My hair was clipped up in different sections. 

Sitting up high with a black cape, steeped in the beautiful aroma of a cup of Aveda tea, I was enjoying the serenity of a hair-do last week.

Michelle has been my hairdresser for 15 years. She is fabulous. 

Michelle owns and runs a youth dance studio.

Michelle: “I feel I have a mental block. I don’t seem to have inspiration for choreography lately. I want to break the mold.” Michelle’s face is more serious than usual. 

I: “Where do you feel most stuck in your creativity?” 

Michelle: “Choreographing for the 16-18-year-old girls.”

I: “How so?” 

Michelle: “They don’t like any of the songs I have picked so far.”

I paused a bit, sensing a bit of disappointment in Michelle's voice.

I: “You have been very creative and successful at this for very many years. Where did you get inspiration in the past?”

Michelle: “I always go for 3 emotions with the audience: I make them cry, I make them scared, or I make them feel drag-queen-like sassy fierce.” As she spoke, her face lit up, voice firm, and her body seemed just a bit taller. A clear energy of confidence. 

I: “Very interesting. I find it cool that you start with the emotions you want to create. That makes a lot of sense to me if I was the audience.” My genuine acknowledgement echoing her level of energy. 

Michelle appreciated.

I: “So once you knew the emotions you wanted to create, how did you go about creating the choreography?”

Michelle: “Then I pick the song. After that, I create the choreography.”

I: “Sounds like a very clear and proven process that has brought you great success.” I further acknowledged. 

Michelle: “Thanks! Now I want to break the mold, and the girls didn’t like any of the songs I picked!” A breeze of seriousness brushed through her face again, this time with a bit of frustration added.

I: “Michelle, Can I ask you a question?” I asked for permission. 

Michelle: “Yes, of course.”

I: “Your ‘emotion - song - choreography’ process has worked very well for you for a long time, I am wondering why you went straight to song selection this time?”

Michelle was silent for a few seconds.

I: “As you want to ‘break the mold’ with new choreography, I am curious - what new emotions do you want to create with the audience? What emotions do you think your 16-18-year-old girls feel most connected with?”

Michelle was silent for another few seconds. 

I paused. Said anything more. I could tell she was in reflection. 

After a few more seconds of being in her head, she is back to conversing with me.

Michelle declared her comments slowly and deliberately, as if she was thinking out loud.“I think I will talk with the girls, ask them for input.  Then I will decide the emotion I want to create. Then I will pick a song together with the girls that will elicit that emotion with the audience.” 

A few more seconds later, I could see Michelle’s face change again, from reflection and contemplation to clarity and conviction. She seems confident and sure about her next steps. 

"Thanks!" Says Michelle.

The red highlights in my hair is looking fresh and vibrant. Michelle is ready to send me out to the world! In her best form, she brings out the beauty in those she touches!

As I was walking out, it’s my turn to be in contemplation - how might this conversation with Michelle be relevant to the dance of leadership


(Intentional pause)

Often times, people ask me about the difference between consulting and coaching. 

Consulting is telling the client what the problem is and how to fix it. Coaching is helping the client develop awareness and discover the solution him/herself.

Consulting assumes the consultant is the expert on the subject. Coaching assumes the client is the expert and has the capacity to find the answer internally. Coaching is guided discovery

Consulting is typically more “TELLING”, and coaching is typically more “asking powerful questions”. 

Consulting imparts knowledge, skills, or solution to a client on a particular situation, coaching helps the client expand capacity and brings out the best within the client.

Often times, a combination of consulting and coaching is best for the client. When I work with clients, I tap into what will best serve them as needed in the moment, while being clear on the roles I play. 

In leadership, TELLING is often over-used and COACHING under-used.

In the case of my conversation with Michelle, I had an urge to share with her my opinion and advice and tell her what to do (which is what I typically do when I put on the “friend” hat). I caught and stopped myself.

I know nothing about choreography, whatever advice I come up will be either not relevant or not credible. How many times are we told by others what we should do this and do that - and how often do we feel compelled to do it when we are TOLD what to do?

The real issue was not her technical ability to create choreography.

Asking question was my best way to serve her in that conversation. 

Michelle is a great choreographer, and she tapped into the strengths and capability inside of her that allowed her to gain clarity and develop a solution. 

In our professional and personal lives, we are often too quickly TOLD by others what we should do, and we often jump into TELLING when it’s not most suited? I know I do it quite a bit unless I am intentional about it.

Effective senior leaders coach more, tell less.

Next time when you catch yourself with an urge of TELLING your direct reports (or anyone you work with, live with, or interact with) your advice, I wonder what would happen if you paused and changed it to ASKING instead?

What if your powerful question(s) can help them connect with their own strengths and creativity so they come up with the advice themselves? They will have far more conviction executing what they come up themselves. The good news is that you don’t ever lose your ability to offer advice - at a later time if you feel it’s important to do so.  

You may be already a great coach with your team (or family members). What specific things do you do as a great coach? With your best practice, my invitation to you is to coach your team members how to coach others. We get double as good at something when we need to teach it. 


Resources: “The Coaching Habit” by Michael Bungay Stanier. It shares 5 simple coaching questions that any manager (and anyone in general) can learn to start using today.