Leadership coaching versus leadership consultancy

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In this blog, TPC Leadership’s Founder Charles Brook explores the differences between leadership coaching and leadership consultancy and when you might need each or indeed both.

What kind of change do you need?

Sometimes coaching isn’t as fast and far-reaching enough to bring the shift you need in your organisation. And sometimes consultancy can miss the underlying mindsets that might be the real obstacle to progress.

Broadly speaking, leadership consultancy steps back to see the big picture, while leadership coaching steps closer to address the personal. But there’s more to it than that. The individual breakthrough that coaching brings inevitably creates waves that break upon the wider picture. Consultancy might result in an organisational shift that gives individuals the space they need to thrive. And then there’s ‘team coaching’ which can also lead to lasting culture change. So which is right to invest in and when?

The power of consultancy

My greatest strength as a consultant is to be ignorant and ask a few questions.” Peter Drucker

Investing in leadership consultancy invites experts to analyse your organisation. The focus is on transforming structures and processes to align with your organisation’s objectives. It’s a chance to look under the bonnet of the system, to check that this vehicle is hitting the track on all cylinders.

Periods of significant change call for consultants. If you’re going through a merger, have a new CEO or strategy, or are experiencing rapid growth, then you want to look at the wider picture. Consultancy will help the organisation as a whole to adapt to new waters, to evolve and stay effective. 

While coaching can assist key individuals with transition, consultancy connects the dots and makes everything work. If there is something amiss on a systems level, consultancy will bring it out of the shadows and light it up. Solutions for how to move forward can then be developed and the organisation can achieve their objectives for the short, middle and long-term.

In essence, consultancy provides leaders with the tools to optimise their organisation. Whereas coaching looks closer at the tool-wielders themselves…

The significance of coaching

I absolutely believe that people, unless coached, never reach their maximum potential” – Bob Nardelli, CEO of Chrysler 

A perfect system is still a broken one if leaders don’t have the mindsets to match it. Your intentions may be noble, but if you don’t know how to navigate your learned instincts, your actions will not follow suit. 

Coaching drills into the bedrock of leaders. It brings their best qualities to the surface and addresses damaging mindsets hidden in the foundations. If you want to build a legacy that lasts, you cannot skip this part of development. The danger with relying on consultancy at the expense of coaching is that your organisation can learn to bail water in expert fashion, without ever addressing the holes in the bottom of the boat.

What about both?

If you give a good idea to a mediocre team, they will screw it up. If you give a mediocre idea to a brilliant team, they will either fix it or throw it away and come up with something better.” – Ed Catmull, Creativity inc

There are benefits to investing in consultants that are also experienced coaches. They’re also more likely to ask better questions and listen, instead of jumping in with a stock solution. They can also identify where consultancy has its limits and how coaching could aid the consultancy process. 

Ultimately, both leadership consultancy and coaching exist to tap into human potential. Systems affect people and people affect systems. If one is askew, the other cannot find balance. Probably the best question to ask is, which do I need first

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