A Distinction between Expert and Coach: “I Know” versus “I Trust”

Recently on HuffingtonPost, I explored 5 Times in a Career When Academic Should Hire a Coach, and I stand by that advice and believe that over the coming years more profs and administrators will hire coaches to help them navigate the increasingly complex work environment that academic life is becoming.  For those interested in that article and the 5 times look at the original post here.

In this post, I want to contrast the role of a professor as expert to the growing importance of professor as coach by examining what experts and coaches do.

Expert. An expert is a person with specialized knowledge and knowhow.  In a sense, an expert is an “I know” and who use that knowledge to the benefit of their employer or client.

Coach A coach is, in a certain sense, on a dimension of interpersonal interaction anyway, the opposite of an expert.  A coach does not know what his or her client should do. Great coaches trust their clients to find out what’s inside of them and discover their own authetic path.  In this way a coach is an “I trust.” Coaches use that ability to believe in the resourcefulness, creativity, and wholeness of their clients to find their own authentic path.

In the past, great professors have been a combination of expert and coach. Students have always felt “mentored” by great teachers, but they were really responding to the prof’s trust in their ability to learn and find their own way.

In a world of MOOCs and Jack Andraka (here), returns to faculty expertise  in the classroom and the laboratory and seminar room are diminished, and the prof who continues to be a one-trick pony, relying on the expertise of his/her PhD, will increasingly become irrelevant, an anachronism of the information age.

On the other hand, the professor  or teacher who augments the content and skills of deep expertise with the interpersonal deep trust and communication ability of the coach will have a powerful combination  enabling him/her to adapt to whatever digital demons devise.  Coaching can be learned directly (for example here) or in specialized courses aimed at building coaching skill in an academic context (here).