If you are in the market for advice regarding your personal or professional life, as you compare your options, you may wonder how a management consultant, an executive coach, and a therapist differ and how to determine which is best qualified for the type of guidance or support you or your team are seeking.

I have served both as a consultant and a coach, and I refer my clients to therapists when the help they need is more psychological or emotional in nature. In this post, I describe my previous work as a management consultant and now as an executive coach, explain how the three roles (management consultant, executive coach, and therapist) differ, and provide guidance on how to choose the right one for you.

Management Consulting

As a former management consultant (Deloitte in NYC) my role was to serve as an independent, outside, objective consultant (typically a part of an independent external team) who could assess a client’s perceived needs and present concrete and highly specific solutions. We would interview the key players at the company that hired us, collect and analyze data, and offer solutions at the end of the project. Most often the end of the management consulting engagement would include a presentation and a binder given to company executives stating our findings and recommendations.

Most management consulting projects address integrative business-focused issues and involved one or more departments, never just a sole individual. We worked on  most projects five days/week usually at the client’s location (in one instance, I worked in Salt Lake City every week for a year). I would not work with more than one project/client at a time.

In most cases, the executive team was responsible for implementing the management consulting solution. If additional work was needed or the client wanted an accountability program, we would agree upon a separate engagement, which we referred to as an “add on.”

Executive Coaching

As an executive coach, my role is focused on either one client or a team. I have multiple clients at a time, meet one-on-one with each client monthly, bi-monthly, or weekly (depending on the engagement), and will often run in-house or remote retreats for teams. I typically begin an engagement using an assessment to help determine the client’s real need and areas of improvement. Whether I’m working with an individual or a team, we collaboratively determine the desired outcomes. We meet to discuss the results of the assessment and then work together to formulate a plan for achieving the desired outcome within the agreed upon time frame.

During each coaching session, I assign “homework,” and at the next session the client reports on his or her progress. Unlike management consulting, with coaching, it is critical that I have chemistry and an excellent working rapport with my clients because we must work closely together and because personal/professional integration will be a key component of our work.

My role as a coach is to “cheer my clients on,” challenge them to achieve personal and professional fulfillment, and motivate them toward their desired outcomes. Unlike most consulting engagements, I work closely with individuals and often become a trusted advisor after coaching engagements.

Therapy

A therapist (e.g., psychotherapist, psychologist, psychiatrist) is a licensed mental health professional who helps clients live more effectively with mental illnesses and emotional difficulties and ultimately works to facilitate healing and living a life of fulfillment and normalcy. Therapy can help with a broad range of challenges such as the impact of trauma, loss of a loved one, coping with a serious medical or family illness, mental disorders such as anxiety and depression, family discord, and relationship issues.

I am not a licensed therapist, so I am careful not to try to provide the services of a therapist. When a client presents an issue that is more in the wheelhouse of a therapist, I provide a referral. I am also careful to prevent team facilitation and coaching sessions from crossing the line into group therapy.

Choosing the Right Professional for the Job

When looking for professional guidance, use the table below as a quick guide to choosing the right professional for the job.

Management Consultant Executive Coach Therapist
Hired and paid by Company Individual or the firm Individual
Hired and paid to Deliver answers and advice within a specified amount of time Challenge, motivate, empower, and ensure accountability within a specified amount of time Ask questions in an effort to provide a means of understanding one’s own self while also establishing a safe, reliable, and trustworthy interpersonal relationship. There is no specific ending to the engagement.
Works with Departments/executives Individual or team Individual, couple, or family.
Strives to deliver Company’s or team’s success Self-improvement, self-fulfillment, and professional/personal integration Mental health and well-being
Focused primarily on Present and future Future Past, present, and future

Note: It is important that business owners and executives not become the consultant, coach, or therapist for their employees/firms. That’s because their entrenchment within their firms and the relationships with their colleagues and employees prohibits them from objectively assessing their firm’s issues, though they are helpful in setting objectives and goals for engagements as well as parameters. Human Resources and/or Talent Management departments can help identify personnel issues but once again, no one within a company should play the role of a consultant, coach, or mental health professional when help from one of those specialists is needed.

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About the Author: Jan Moorad, a former Deloitte management consultant and Major League Baseball and NASCAR team partner, is a Newport Beach, Calif.-based executive coach who helps C-Suite executives and their spouses pursue and achieve personal and professional fulfillment.