On Coaching

Last year I observed a national program that helps academic researchers get on an entrepreneurial path. I was impressed by how the program leaders made a big point of encouraging the teaching team to distinguish the difference between coaching and consulting.

Coaching is question-oriented. Consulting is prescriptive. Coaching is more effective and Consulting is less so. Coaching is harder. Consulting is easier.

My partner and I laughed the other day as we watched a scene on television in which a Rabbi on his deathbed was talking to his attending doctor who was clearly in pain. He said something like, “I’m about to die here so I’m just going to skip the part where I pretend that I don’t know what to tell you. I’m just gonna tell you, ok?” We laughed because when we are tired, this is how we teach! We fast forward to the advice part. And then we beat ourselves up later because we know it’s not an effective approach. I mean, if you’re on your death bed, you can pull it off. But otherwise, coaching is the way to go.

So why do we consult when coaching is more effective? Like I said above, it’s easier. If you think you know the answer for someone, it’s 1000 times less work to just tell them what you think rather than ask them 20 questions to try and tease it out.

And why is coaching more effective than consulting? Because it empowers people to formulate their own questions about their own work and lives and not depend on others to do that for them. Yes, for the coach it feels like you’re giving up control of the situation. But that’s what it’s supposed to feel like. That’s the very definition of empowerment.