I’m often contacted by people who tell me they are looking for a coach when what they need is a trusted advisor.

The words advisor and coach are frequently used interchangeably. However, they are actually quite different. Understanding the distinction will ensure that you hire the right person for your needs.


An advisor is someone who is a subject matter expert in an area that’s of importance to you. This person provides advice based on your particular situation.

For example, I’m a trusted advisor to a number of CEOs who reach out to me to discuss issues that are top of mind regarding talent. They may have questions around the best way to structure the organization, or they might need advice as to how to best exit an executive from the organization.

Sometimes they’ll reach out to me because they need a sounding board. Other times, it may be merely to vent.


A coach is someone who is an expert on the processes required to create behavioral changes. Often, there are some behaviors that hold people back.

A coach will help identify one or two areas where behavioral changes would be helpful. He or she would then work closely with that individual to achieve mutually agreed-upon goals. Coaches are generally great at asking questions and provoking the coachee to identify his or her own solutions.

The value of a coach or advisor can be dramatically different. It’s essential to be clear on the objectives you are trying to achieve to ensure you have engaged the right kind of resource for your given situation.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that often while I’m in the trusted advisory role, I’m also coaching.

For example, recently a client said to me that he was seeing an increase in the number of employees leaving his firm. We’ve worked together long enough for me to know that in all likelihood, he was contributing to the problem.

You see, he’s not much of a communicator, which is something workers today are seeking. I helped him identify ways he could improve in this area while remaining true to himself.

When seeking an advisor or a coach, ask the following questions:

  • What am I looking to achieve?
  • Am I in need of someone who can help me shift my behaviors or do I need expert advice in a particular area?
  • Does the person whom I’m speaking with have experience helping people like me?
  • What results has this person helped their clients achieve?
  • Am I emotionally ready to commit to working with a coach or advisor?

By asking these questions, you’ll help to ensure that your first foray into working with an advisor or coach is an experience well worth repeating!