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When Managers Become Coaches

“Management is about arranging and telling. Leadership is about nurturing and enhancing.” Tom Peters.

Coaching image

Think back to the worst manager you ever had. I bet, if I asked what was so bad about them, you’d say that they didn’t understand you, they micro-managed you, they forced you to do things you didn’t want to do and knew wouldn’t work, that they didn’t trust you. And there would probably be much more!

What if I asked about the best manager you’ve had, what were they like? I’m sure you’d say (because I often ask this question) they were supportive, understood you, they COACHED you.

If coaching is getting people to do the right thing by asking the right questions, and managers get people to do things by telling them what to do, then wouldn’t we all prefer to be coached? Do we need to get rid of managers altogether and employ more coaches?

Let’s look at what managers do. They are experts in their field. They help the team set objectives, making sure those objectives have a line of sight to the organisation’s weekly, monthly, quarterly, annual goal. A manager will help the team overcome obstacles and make sure those targets are met. That the job gets done. They make decisions, monitor and delegate.

A coach, on the other hand, will help someone to develop, giving them the tools to do so. They listen, rather than speak. They observe.

Paper boats image

Best-selling author Brian Tracy says, “Management is transactional, while Leadership is Transformational.” I think here leadership can be replaced with coaching. A great leader will always coach.

The way businesses want their managers to work is changing. Google now says managers shouldn’t hire, instead they have a process for hiring, and managers don’t fire, give pay rises or promotions. Instead, they’re spending more time on coaching across a much broader span of control than the normal 5–7.

When I spoke to Henry Stewart, Chief Happiness Officer at Happy, for my podcast, The Melting Pot, he said they don’t have managers as such, but co-ordinators who coach. Here’s why:

“What you don’t want is people who tell people what to do and think they’re the expert. However, most people, if you leave them completely to their own devices feel a bit lost and a bit unsupported, so we have people whose role is very simple — their role is to coach. And most of our staff will meet every couple of weeks for a half hour coaching session”. And what’s interesting, is that the staff are able to pick who they want as their coach.

So, perhaps the coaching doesn’t have to come from a manager, as long as there is someone within the business you can receive that development from. In fact, author and leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith thinks the future of coaching is in peer coaching. So, you wouldn’t necessarily expect to get coaching from your boss but from your peers. But that means you have to be happy to sit down with other people in your team and be open to them giving you feedback. The whole concept of Kim Scott’s Radical Candor is to be open and honest with someone in order to help them become the best version of themselves. That’s not always easy though. It’s tough to hear negative feedback. Ray Dalio founder at Bridgewater Associates and author of Principles says he has had to train himself to feel the pain of negative feedback as pleasure. And, being British, it’s often just as difficult giving the feedback. How many of us would avoid telling someone they had spinach in their teeth rather than tell them?! We feel embarrassed, but we shouldn’t. We are being honest because we care and, in the case of business, we want someone to develop.

Happy team image

here is one job a manager does that a coach doesn’t that I think is essential — praise. People need praise and a coach doesn’t really give that.

Gallup’s Q12 tool looks at the 12 factors that correlate with high performing work groups, they found that great work groups are the building blocks of great companies. One of the questions within that Q12 is “In the last seven days, have you received recognition or praise for doing good work?” It’s proof praise is important. People cherish it, and if managers are the ones to give it, then that’s a big tick for keeping managers. We shouldn’t be in a world where “if you don’t hear anything from me assume you’re doing a good job” is true any longer.

The Q12 also asks: “Do you know what is expected of you at work?” Well, a manager could tell you what is expected of you, but the research suggests people set bigger goals if they set them themselves and they own the goals they set for themselves and for that you’d need a coach. So, why wouldn’t you take a coaching approach?

Other questions from Gallup Q12 tool to measure employee engagement:

“Do you have the materials and equipment to do your work right?” That, again, is the manager’s job to take roadblocks out of the way. Servant leadership if you like.

“Does your supervisor, or someone at work, seem to care about you as a person?” — Manager

“Is there someone at work who encourages your development?” — Coach

“At work, do your opinions seem to count?” — Manager

“Does the mission/purpose of your company make you feel your job is important?” — Manager

“Are your associates (fellow employees) committed to doing quality work?” — Manager

So, it’s not a case of having one or the other — a manager OR a coach — it’s a mix of both. Managing with a coaching mindset. We can’t get rid of managers all together, they serve a purpose. But if we want to safeguard the future of our businesses, the future of our staff, then we need to acknowledge how important coaching is both to engagement and results.

Other articles:

Gallup research into the 12 factors that make up great work groups, these are the building blocks of great companies — insight into Bridgewater Associates

Written by expert business coach Dom Monkhouse, a certified Scaling Up™ Business Coach with a real enthusiasm for helping to scale up mid-market companies in London Found out more about his work here.

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