Executive Coaching, Consulting, Mentoring Distinctions

Lisa Rosendahl of Simply Lisa fame commented on the previous post, Coaching vs. Feedback, asking for the distinguishing characteristics between coaching and mentoring. I had this post in mind already when she asked, and also wanted to add consulting into the distinction mix. My thanks to my dear friend Mary Sue Reining of the Reining Leadership Group who helped to clarify these distinctions in a booklet we co-authored for our clients called “Working With Your Executive Coach”.

My intent is for the leaders reading these posts to be able to make the appropriate distinctions, and to spend their organization’s dollars wisely when a choice must be made. Also a bit selfishly, executive coaching remains a bit of an unknown entity in some circles, and by making these distinctions, I am able to defend and promote my profession (“calling”) and passion for coaching – not necessarily for myself but for all of the good people out there who think they might be interested in working with a coach.

Coaching is often considered a form of consulting, although there are differences in delivery and client experience.  Coaching can also be closely aligned with mentoring.  The differences and similarities (as I see them; this, as all of my posts, are meant to stimulate discourse, including disagreement!) between coaching, consulting, and mentoring are highlighted as follows:

Executive Coaching:

  • The focus is primarily on an individual within the context of the organization in which they work.
  • The goal is behavioral change and professional/personal development.
  • The foundation for dialog is inquiry for self awareness, action, and accountability. 

Consulting: 

  • The focus is primarily on an organization, but may take individuals within the organization into account.
  • The goal is organizational change and/or development.
  • The foundation for dialog is to leverage expertise, to give advice and recommendations.

Mentoring:

  • Focus is primarily on an individual within the context of the organization.
  • Goal is learning and support for the individual
  • Foundation for the relationship is to give advice, provide support, and make introductions.

You may be thoroughly confused by now. These don’t fit neatly into completely distinct entities. They overlap and weave. Hmm…..what term would you use to describe doing all three at the same time?


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.

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