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While being the solver of all problems might be effective and efficient in achieving results for a manager in the short term, in the long run it creates a weaker team through learned helplessness. Too many organizations are unable to function when the boss isn’t there to tell employees what to do. We should remember that every problem is a learning opportunity and not to short-circuit the learning process in a rush to the solution.

Last time, we discussed the problems of the traditional top-down, command-and-control management style and the benefits of, and trend towards, a more participatory and consultative leadership approach. Guiding and empowering employees, rather than just telling them what to do, is both rewarding and much more productive. A good coach-manager will gain deep insights into what’s going on within their team (including what’s hampering their ability to perform) so that they can intervene before serious problems emerge.

Coaching and collaboration have taken over as the most effective way for managers to lead. Interestingly, Google’s Project Oxygen 2018 Manager Feedback Survey found that employees ranked coaching as the top competence they want their managers to have. Unfortunately, according to a recent study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), an astounding 93% of managers feel they lacked the training and skills needed to properly coach their direct reports.

Although a huge disparity exists between the need for managers to be coaches to their employees and their ability to do so (even if they understand the importance of being a coach and have the skills), frequently managers don’t have or take the time. Global Dynamics Senior Associate and executive coaching expert Maya Hu-Chan has stated that it is common for managers to feel that being a coach would be counter-productive to their time management.

That coaching is highly time consuming is a myth, explains Hu-Chan, and stems from a common misconception that coaching is the same as mentoring. A coach builds capability, while a mentor provides answers. Whereas a mentor is typically the subject matter expert and has the responsibility of providing instructions and answers, a coach helps employees to find solutions themselves.

According to Sir John Whitmore, a leading figure in executive coaching, the definition of coaching is “unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.” In its simplest form, coaching is the act of helping others to perform better. In helping employees find solutions themselves, the successful coach-manager contributes to employees’ learning and to their personal and professional growth. When done right, coaching can also help with employee engagement, as it is typically more motivating to bring your expertise to a situation than to be told what to do.

It is the coach’s role to ask: What would success look like in this situation? What actions would you consider? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this solution? Are there other solutions to consider? “If managers coach effectively, it will improve their team members’ performance and free managers to focus more on their own jobs,” Hu-Chan says. “The methodology is simple, yet effective in breaking the cycle of dependence.”

If a manager wants to be a leader, she must develop the ability to coach others. It is core skill required of every successful manager in the 21st century. Given that much of an individual’s experience at work is directly shaped by their relationship with their manager, it is vital that managers are given the coaching tools they need to adapt their management style and respond better to the needs of their team members. To overcome common barriers and to help transform managers into coaches, here are five things that you can do to foster change.

  1. Build the personal case for coaching. You can’t force coaching responsibilities on managers who don’t see its relevance. Once the managers understand that they can get more done and achieve stronger results through the efforts of others, they will want to learn how coaching, not command-and-control, will enable them to better leverage the talents of their employees.
  2. Establish some firm expectations. Making it clear that coaching is a primary responsibility of each manager in your organization is an essential prerequisite to creating a coaching organization. If you don’t establish firm expectations around coaching, you are unlikely to get the results you want.
  3. Teach coaching skills and put them to practice. Coaching does not necessarily come naturally to most managers. Core coaching skills such as listening, questioning, observing, building rapport, constructive analysis and feedback, empathy, supportive encouragement and holding others accountable can all be enhanced or taught via a variety of formats; and managers need the opportunity to put the skills to use in real-world, real-time situations.
  4. Give a manager a coach. There is no more effective means for learning than through hands-on experience. Therefore, if you want to transform a manager into a coach, it’s a good idea to give them the opportunity to experience coaching first hand.
  5. Reward the best coaches with the best jobs. This should not be a stretch. The managers who demonstrate the strongest coaching skills are likely to be the strongest performers. As such, they should be candidates for the most important manager and executive roles in the organization.

Final Words

Rather than prescribing answers, coach-managers are equipped to empower teams to perform and support the continual learning, communication and feedback cycle that creates a highly motivational workplace environment. A good coach-manager provides feedback when you need it and space when you don’t. They set individualized goals for you to achieve, then support you with what you need to reach them. They spend time with you, they recognize your achievements, however small, and they help develop you, personally and professionally. They build a relationship with you that allows for tough conversations under pressure.

One of the best ways that managers can demonstrate active leadership is through effective coaching and development of their employees. Great leaders who are effective coaches can inspire and motivate their employees to become great leaders themselves. When we enable our employees to excel and succeed, it is a reflection of our own success. Truly effective leaders create teams that excel at cooperation, communication and collaboration; and that deliver exceptional results.


Sources: “How to Turn Managers into Coaches” by Agata Nowakowska; “Training Managers to be Coaches” by Neal Goodman; “Why Your Managers Should Be Like Coaches” by Jessica Buona; “Five Ways to Transform Managers Into Coaches” from the American Management Association; “Most Managers Don’t Know How to Coach People” by Julia Milner and Trenton Milner.