The Expert or The Guide: Which One Do You Need?

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I was doing some strategic planning for my coaching and consulting business a few years ago with a friend when he stopped me and said,

"Beth, I don't want you to take this the wrong way, but I wouldn't hire you to be my coach because I would want to work with someone who was an expert in my industry."

Without skipping a beat, I heard myself respond by saying,

"That's okay. You're not my ideal client anyway. I want to work with people who need a guide, not an expert."

I was surprised by my quick and confident response. In past seasons, I might have felt a bit hurt or disappointed to know this friend wouldn't choose to work with me because he didn't see me as an "expert" (even though I knew I wasn't an expert, anyway). But his direct words were just the inspiration I needed to acknowledge the fact that I was on the right path with the right people in this season of coaching and consulting.

Since that time, I've had the usual conversations with business owners, entrepreneurs, stay-at-home parents, educational and nonprofit leaders about the possibilities of coaching and consulting because this is the work I do. And now I know when I hear these individuals process very specific needs related to industry standards, market analysis, financial forecasting, and so on, then chances are, they need an EXPERT. And that expert is not me.

This kind of coaching and consulting is actually quite exhausting for them, and for me. It's where they feel the most pain, and where I struggle to find the most helpful solutions. And it's just not in my "wheelhouse."

If, however, these individuals are processing thoughts or sharing statements like:

  • I feel stuck in life and not sure what next step to take regarding my future or my family or my career.

  • I hate my job, even though I'm really good at it, and have no clue what else I could do or would want to do?

  • I’m not sure I align with the values of my organization anymore. Now what?

  • I just hired a COO but now I'm questioning how I still fit into the organizational structure as the owner or CEO?

  • I want to step out of the day to day details of my business and focus on the bigger picture but I don't know how to break free and it seems like everyone needs me all the time.

  • I have a lot of ideas and need help figuring out which ones to put into action, and how best to move towards that action.

  • I want to build a stronger team and a culture of trust, but I don't know where to start.

  • I'm having a hard time considering myself the "leader" and I don't know what do do about it.

  • I have a few big deadlines to meet but I'm in the middle of a creative block and I'm not sure why.

  • Things feel chaotic or out of control at work, or in my life. What do I need to fix? Where could I make some changes?

  • I'm ready to move on, or retire, or try something new, but I’m wondering what it looks like to end well and make that transition.

then there's a good chance they need a GUIDE.

What I mean by this is, they need a coach and consultant who is willing to ask thoughtful questions, listen to the answers, reflect back their assumptions, challenge their assessments, help them identify their values, see their talents, understand their current reality, and encourage them as they move forward with confidence into the future.

So, remember this: next time you need help or feel stuck in your career or frustrated with your life, ask yourself, "Do I need an EXPERT or a GUIDE right now?"

If you find yourself asking really specific questions regarding your industry, required marketplace standards or the financial success of your organization, then find the EXPERT who will ask you questions and listen to your answers--not one who tells you what to do or what to think. And if your questions or thoughts are anything like the ones listed above, then look for a GUIDE.

Here are my best suggestions for finding an EXPERT or a GUIDE:

1. Look around you. Who around you is already coaching and consulting as an EXPERT or a GUIDE?

2. Ask for help. Ask a trusted colleague, mentor, or friend if they have any recommendations for the EXPERT or GUIDE you need. And if they are not sure, don't hesitate to reach out and ask me for suggestions (beth@bethgraybill.com). I'd be happy to point you in the direction of several colleagues and friends who are experts and guides across the country.

Beth Graybill