Business consultants have been around a long time. Business coaches are relatively new. The two professions take very different approaches.
- Business consultants are problem solvers. Their underlying message is, “I’m smarter than you are. I’ll tell you what’s wrong with your business and how to fix it.”
- Business coaches are people developers. They don’t tell their clients what to do; they ask questions. Their message is, “You’re smart. I’ll be a mirror to help you look inside yourself, so you can not only solve this problem, but increase your capacity to successfully manage all areas of your life.”
- Business consultants typically focus on maximizing profitability.
- Business coaches typically focus on maximizing potential.
- Business consultants help their clients succeed in their jobs.
- Business coaches help their clients succeed in their lives.
- Business consultants help their clients catch fish, so they can eat a meal.
- Business coaches help their clients learn how to fish, so they will never go hungry.
People come to business coaches for two reasons: inspiration and desperation.
- Inspired people want a coach to help them do better.
- Desperate people want a coach to help get them out of a jam.
The entry point in business coaching is usually a business issue. The client may want to increase sales, promote better teamwork, enhance productivity, reduce turnover, or improve quality. But the coaching relationship, once initiated, invariably moves beyond the initial perceived need. “Fix my business” gradually and naturally evolves into “fix me.”
A client facing business bankruptcy, for example, may discover through coaching that he has a problem with procrastination, or with interpersonal skills, or with fear of failure. Sometimes clients realize their interests and skills don’t match the requirements of their current positions, and they decide to make a career change. Coaching weeds out inhibiting issues such as these, allowing buried potential to spring forth and bloom.
Why do business leaders use coaches at all? Don’t they have friends and professional colleagues to talk to? Yes, and good coaches encourage their clients to deepen these relationships and build a reliable support system. But all alternative support systems have weaknesses.
- In business, it’s lonely at the top. Managers can’t be vulnerable with their bosses or with their subordinates about the most sensitive issues.
- Friends will listen and give help when they can, but they’re not trained to identify the most significant issues. And when they have needs of their own, they want to receive help, not give it.
- Spouses can be good listeners, but it’s problematic to bring in-depth business counseling into the middle of a marriage.
Because business coaching fills a real need, the profession is rapidly growing and gaining recognition. And because it produces such outstanding results, successful business coaches build their practices almost entirely through referrals.
The client – coach relationship is designed to be open-ended and long-term, because no one ever attains the goal of fully maximized potential. But after 18 to 24 months, two factors may prompt some clients to begin thinking about changing their coaching relationship.
- Clients who have experienced significant growth may wish to begin functioning more independently. In this case, they might agree with their coach to reduce the frequency of their coaching sessions, or to schedule future sessions on an ‘as-needed’ basis.
- Other clients may want to begin a relationship with a new coach, so they can expand their capabilities through contact with someone who has different skills and experiences.
Coaches want their clients to be the best they can be. Jealousy, competitiveness, and possessiveness have no place in the coaching relationship. That’s why effective coaches are delighted to refer their clients to other coaches when that is a positive step in their growth. In fact, experience shows that a client’s current coach is the primary source of referrals to a new coach.
When clients move on to the next phase of their development, coaches naturally feel a sense of loss. But this is overshadowed by the joy and satisfaction of having been part of client’s process of growth and accomplishment. The coach tends to feel like a proud parent who is watching a child go off to college or get married.