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Confessions of a Conch

I have been struggling for months now with a crisis of identity. I am a coach. I am also a consultant. To make the situation worse, many people don’t even realise there’s a difference.

Coaching, pure coaching, is entirely non-directive. This is the power and the joy of it. I may have a dozen opinions on what a client SHOULD do in any given situation, but as a coach those opinions are completely irrelevant. My job is to ask the right questions, challenge assumptions, create space and energy for new thinking, so the client can identify his or her own values, goals, options, actions and make the choices and decisions that will take them where they want to go. 

As a pure coach, the less you know about the client’s business area the better. There are vast swathes of industry about which I am completely clueless: I like to think this makes me an exceptional coach.

As a consultant, the opposite of course is true: the client comes to you precisely because of your experience and expertise, and if you are reluctant to offer an opinion the client is likely to be reluctant to part with any cash. 

I first realised the delicate nature of my predicament while a client and I worked through the issues associated with planning his first book. He’d identified one of his actions as ‘finding out more about how ebooks work’, and when I asked him who could help with this the obvious answer was, ‘Well, you.’ Which was true, of course, but how should I go about providing answers? It seemed inappropriate to change into consultant mode in the middle of a coaching session, yet artificial to set up an entirely new session to establish this more directive, consultative relationship. 

My (imperfect) response has been to establish clear parameters for sessions where publishing and content marketing are at issue: with the client’s agreement, I spend roughly 75% of the session in coach mode, simply asking the right questions to help the client articulate what it is they want to achieve, and explore and prioritise the options to pursue. If specific content-related questions come up we capture them in a ‘parking space’ so they don’t get forgotten but we don’t disrupt the dynamic of the session by dealing with them on the spot. Then for the last 15 minutes or so I explicitly move into consultant mode: we ‘unpark’ the questions and I offer my expertise, make suggestions they haven’t yet considered, and point out things they need to consider as they move forward. 

The system is designed to achieve the best of both worlds, but an unexpected benefit has become apparent: in this fast-moving world, every industry and even every organisation has the potential to do something entirely new with content in their business. This hybrid model allows the entrepreneur, with their instinct for innovation and their deep understanding of their industry, to envisage unique, industry-appropriate ways of using content that no consultant - including myself - would ever suggest, but it increases the likelihood of success for that innovation by ensuring that there’s expert input for the idea from the start. 

And so I am proud to call myself a ‘conch’ - a coach whose passion is helping her clients discover their own solutions, and simultaneously a consultant who can bring her experience to those solutions to make them work brilliantly. 

EDIT: I discover from Wikipedia that amongst their myriad uses (as food, musical instrument, decorative objects, even ink holders) conches are traditionally used to determine whose turn it is to make the tea: ‘The tea maker symbolically hands over the conch to the person who will be the next to put the kettle on.’ Truly, I am the conch.  

Tags: coach | consultant

This entry was posted on 20 May 2014 at 17:03 and is filed under content strategy | business coaching. You can leave a response here.

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