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  • Martin Harshberger

Am I a Coach or Consultant?

I recently wrote a blog post that leadership development training doesn’t work. I quoted an article in The Harvard Business Review that gave several reasons for that statement that gave several good reasons for that conclusion. If you missed the article you can read it by clicking the link.

To summarize they had one powerful quote that summed it up brilliantly, “individuals had less power to change the system surrounding them than the system had to shape them.”

From my personal experience going to many programs over my career that sums it up perfectly.

The coaches that deliver the training aren’t bad, most of the products aren’t bad, they just don’t get to the root cause of why change initiatives don’t gain traction.

For the past 15 years, I’ve called myself a business coach. I did that because as a former CEO I always was wary of consultants. But truth be told, I acted as a consultant, my background in founding and running two eight-figure companies gave me great insight into how I looked at the client’s businesses. I was comfortable giving advice.

I was able to help make some significant improvements in my client’s companies, but I was always surprised about how much resistance they exhibited executing the changes they agreed that they needed.

I finally realized that like the leadership coach I was only dealing with part of the problem. I addressed the strategic and organizational issues but didn’t address the human issues that kept them from accepting and executing change.

So, what’s the answer? Does a client have to hire two skill sets to get a complete solution? I can’t imagine the confusion caused by two experts competing for recognition.


No, I have come to believe that to offer a total solution you must be a hybrid of a coach/consultant.

That leads to further thought on the idea of combining the two.

First, we must understand where the coach receives leadership training. There are of course many programs to train and become certified. But what is the background of these coaches? I went to leadership training early in my coaching career and I was an anomaly. Most of my fellow students were HR folks, some phycology students, etc. But not many businesspeople. Consequently, I was a lousy leadership coach, and went back to what I knew and was comfortable with. I gave up leadership about 1 month after spending over $30K finding out it wasn’t for me.

The next question is, where does the business consultant get their training or more importantly their experience. Many of these folks came from large organizations and decided for whatever reason to go on their own. The best place to get experience in running a business/ I had no idea what I didn’t know when I left a Fortune 500 company years ago and started my business.


So, if both are somewhat difficult fields how do we create a hybrid? In my mind, it’s easier to train the leadership expert on a process that they can take the client through and facilitate discussion to identify strategies and issues than training a person like myself that has been focused on core business issues.

If you want to learn more about my thinking on this subject, I have a video that may help.

Access the video here



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