December 6, 2022

Coach or advisor? Is there a difference?

I think so.

Sometimes when being approached by a prospective new project, I’m not sure the person I’m interviewing (or who’s interviewing me) sees or understands the difference between a coach or advisor. I’ll try to explain that here.

I (and a lot of other consultants) have a lifetime of experiences, lessons, trials, and tribulations. And much of my past life has been about applying this knowledge base to my clients’ situations. Some of my clients say they’ve learned things from my advice that changed how they operated thereafter. In other cases, they’ve reported that my advice helped them fix an issue for the present.

In some cases, I offered no advice and simply (although not simply at all) cajoled the client into getting clear and resolving their own issues.

So I perceive a continuum from advising to coaching.

When clients hire an advisor, they’re often asking for a knowledge transfer to get them over some hump. Companies buy this type of advice for HR issues, architectural issues, or other professional exercises in which that company is not expert… and they demonstrate some desire to change. The ensuing relationship is between the clients’ Knower/Judger and the advisor’s. They buy what I know.

I’ve worked with clients who hired manufacturing process engineers for a short term, to streamline their internal processes for more effectiveness or efficiencies. I’ve seen accountants brought in to modify accounting procedures. They’re hired and hopefully effect the desired change, give the manual to the employees left in charge, get paid, and go on to their next gig.

On the other end of the spectrum are coaches. So what do coaches do differently?

Coaches, in my interpretation, support leaders in getting clear about the changes they seek—the Simon Sinek “Why, What, How” of the matter at hand. In my opinion, the overall effect on the business is not executed by the coach but by the individuals being coached. In other words, my coaching empowers leaders to transform working relationships, strategies, and even team cultures. The coaching relationship, in contrast to the advisor relationship, is between the two parties’ Learner/Researcher (L/R) personas.

Arriving at a solution via coaching, I find, is usually longer term and more complex than via advising. And I’ve done both depending on what’s called for or even contracted for. Why? Because naked advice, in my opinion, can sometimes be a mere band-aid. Yes, it’s fine to hire someone to come in and tell you what to try to accomplish in a specific scenario—clearly some situations call for only advice.

My take on coaching involves getting the participants to see things from different perspectives than they originally bring to the table. I get them to explore their strengths and weaknesses and engineer achievable solutions with those in mind.

In the last 15 or so years, my professional endeavors have evolved frequently to a hybrid of coaching and advising. But they always start by employing coaching, which I see as tougher work for both of us.

Once clients are clear (about themselves, their team, their strengths and weaknesses, the culture, and the issues underlying the challenge they’re addressing), then potential solutions usually abound (creative juices can flow unimpeded) and “advice” is accepted from all sources (including me). Frequently my years of diverse experience bring different vies to the table—views that sometimes become part of a solution and sometimes don’t.

Here’s my naked advice: If you need a new accounting system, hire an accounting advisor. Need a new office? Hire an architect.

If you want to invest in the future of your endeavor and the value of your team and their ability to resolve their own issues, hire a coach.

Or do both! But my advice is to start with the coach. The resulting benefits continue to pay dividends long after the original issues are resolved.

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