So what if consulting, coaching, and mentoring are different form each other? As a professional coach, it is important to know how one is similar and different from the other so that you know which hat to wear given a specific client requirement or situation.
One interesting perspective was given by Edgar Schein when he wrote about indoctrination, training, education and coaching in his essay Coaching and Consultation Revisited, Are They The Same? Essentially, all these involve changing the behavior of an individual or groups of individuals in an organization. One can say the same thing about consulting and mentoring as well.
Schein clarified that what’s different is that in coaching the coach does not necessarily have in mind a predetermined direction or outcome, the coach does not have arbitrary power over the person, and that the person volunteers and is motivated to learn.
He thought of coaching as helping a person develop a new way of seeing, feeling about, and behaving in situations that are defined by the person, the client, as problematic. In coaching, the goal is selected by the client. He viewed coaching as a subset of consulting.
While you may or may not agree that coaching is a subset of consulting, at the end of the day, you may agree with his point that it’s more important that you can easily move from one role to the other as needed, and that the ultimate skill of a coach is to assess the moment-to-moment reality that will help him or her know which hat to wear to be in the appropriate role.