Coach, Mentor, Consultant, Therapist: Who do You Need?
by Dr Conor Hughes, Coach and Corporate Trainer
If you need to make a fruit salad, there isn't much point wandering the aisles in the shoe shop. And if you need a coach, there isn't much point hiring a mentor, consultant or therapist. So let's be clear: what are the differences? And when would you engage each different type?
A Coach is a catalyst. A coach has tools to help the individual find their own answers, their own motivation, their own growth and their own commitment. The individual chooses which areas of professional and personal development they want to expand and improve in, and the coach makes that journey deeper, richer and more effective. So your coach almost certainly won't know how to do your job. What your coach certainly will know is how to coach. Think about sports coaches. A few may have competed (and won) at the very highest levels of the sport: most haven't. But they know how to encourage, motivate, develop and mould their athletes, and that is what makes a great coach.
A Mentor is quite a different animal. A Mentor must have walked the same path that you are walking, and be far ahead of you on that path. A Mentor knows where you will find obstacles, hostile terrain and lush paradises with low-hanging fruit for the taking. They will give you specific advice on the skills, knowledge and responses you need to develop in a given role. For example, an executive may mentor a middle manager, advising on alliances, communications and political awareness to help accelerate a transition to senior management. Most often, this happens within a company, and the Mentor's advice guides the individual through the corporate forest like a trail of breadcrumbs. Sometimes a Mentor has a clear teaching role, for example when an older, experienced staff member oversees the skill development of a novice in the department (without necessarily having any line management relationship).
In their different ways, Coaches and Mentors both support the individual in achieving excellence. A Consultant does something very different: a Consultant actually does the job. Consultants produce deliverables so your staff don't have to. If you have ever engaged a team of Consultants and specified "skills transfer to staff" as part of their brief, you will know how tricky it can be to ensure that your staff really do learn anything useful during the Consultants' engagement. Of course, ultimate accountability never leaves the client company, but it is worth remembering that Consultants are in business fundamentally to solve your problem for you, not with you.
And when do you call in a Therapist? This term can encompass skills from psychiatry to trauma counseling, and all types of clinical psychology in between. The need for therapy rather than coaching can be assessed by considering the individual's relationship with their past: if the past is an issue that impedes the individual in the now, look to therapy. If the individual - no matter how traumatic their past - regards the past simply as a fact, with no major emotional impact in the now, look to coaching.
So the different words really do mean something different. And may your fruit salads never be flavoured with shoelaces.
If you are in need of high quality coaching for individuals in your organisation drop us an email on or call 011 - 462 0844.