There is a difference between a Leadership Practitioner and a Leadership Coach. Let me begin with a metaphor to paint the picture.

As Alexandre Vsevolo Latchininsky, Extension Entomologist for the State of Wyoming, explains, “all locusts are grasshoppers but not all grasshoppers are locusts.” Similarly, while Leadership Practitioners often act as Leadership coaches, not all Leadership coaches are Leadership Practitioners. Consider the following definitions:

  • Practitioner
    noun prac·ti·tion·er \ prak-ˈti-sh(ə-)nər \
    : one who practices; especially: one who practices a profession
  • Coach
    noun, often attributive \ ˈkōch \
    : one who instructs or trains

These ideas are clearly similar but they are still technically different. For example, notice that the first definition has the word “profession” in it. In our modern language, “professional” has become a relative word but it still usually means more than just engaging in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation. To most of us, the word “professional” implies expertise.

Unfortunately, even the word “expertise” has become relative. Still, we know that an expert is someone who has enough knowledge to help others confidently. When we think of the expert in a specific field, we often think of those who have studied and practiced over a great deal of time. In other words, it is their specialty or trade.

To this point, a Leadership Development Practitioner is probably someone who is thoroughly qualified to practice Leadership Development. This is often distinguished by the level of competency and training that a Leadership Development Practitioner undertakes. In contrast, a coach may have some training and a general understanding but that training and understanding are rarely extensive. As a result, we can see a clear separation between a Leadership coach and a Leadership Practitioner.

Let me use another metaphor to be abundantly clear. A Physician’s Assistant can probably train people at the Rec Center on how to administer First Aid, but a First Aid instructor at the Rec Center may not be able to train people on how to be a Physician’s Assistant. While both positions serve an important role; those roles are still ultimately very different.

Similarly, a Leadership coach might take a seminar or a few solitary classes; they may get certified in a particular program and read a few great books on the topic. Heck, they may even have a minor in the subject or dedicated a considerable amount of time to self-study. There is no doubt that there is a passion for Leadership Development and there is clearly an important role to play in regard to what they can teach others. However, this still doesn’t make them a Leadership Development Practitioner. A Leadership Development Practitioner likely dedicated their entire academic career to the discipline and has advanced degrees in it. They have likely invested thousands of dollars and numerous years to learn a great deal about the topic and can often diagnose Leadership issues within the individual or organization and prescribe and individualize a program to remedy the issue.

Another metaphor might be found in accounting. You really have two choices when you decide to seek help in filing your taxes. You can choose the accountant that spent their entire academic career learning numbers, tax laws and so on. Or, you choose the tax-prep service where the individual was provided what might equate to 5 college credit hours in accounting and tax prep techniques. Both do taxes but only one can provide you the detailed information and guidance you really need. Leadership development is similar in this regard.

Let me be clear; both the Leadership Coach and Leadership Practitioner have an important role to play. This is simply to demonstrate that while a Leadership Practitioner can also be a Leadership Coach, a Leadership Coach may not always be a Leadership Practitioner. Knowing the difference can be critical when you are choosing a Leadership Development Program for yourself or your organization. Just remember that each role is specific and individuals and organizations seeking Leadership Development Programs must be aware of the differences in order to make the best choice required for their situation.