Are You a Manager or a Coach?

Your best answer is "both."

Conventional wisdom says that “manager” and “coach” are two distinct roles. Managers are bosses who direct people to achieve specific outcomes. They assign tasks, track performance, solve problems, and get things done. Coaches are mentors who guide people to help them achieve their career goals. They listen, explore options, provide support, and facilitate development. Yin and yang. Apples and oranges. End of story. Right?


Wrong. Because in 2019, it’s clear that managers who can’t (or don’t) coach are simply not as effective as those who can (and do). So what does it mean to be both a manager and a coach? How do you strike the right balance between the two? And what are the benefits of adding coaching skills to your manager toolkit?


Here are four basic concepts and ideas that explore the answers to these questions--and reveal how coaching principles can help you become a better, more effective leader.

#1: Different Folks Need Different Strokes

How do you get the best possible performance from every person you manage? The short answer is that there is no short answer. People with different personalities and levels of experience thrive under different types of leadership. For example, a new, younger employee who is just learning the ropes probably needs the kind of clear, structured, task-oriented direction a traditional manager provides. But a more seasoned employee in a familiar role will likely perform best with the kind of low-key guidance and support that looks a lot more like coaching. So by actively developing both types of skills—and then applying them where they make the most sense—you can significantly boost your ability to get the most out of every member of your team, regardless of age, experience, and personality type.


What Do People Want Most in a Manager?

According to a Predictive Index survey, they want a manager who knows how to coach. Coaching attributes popped up over and over again in the survey’s “Top traits of a great manager.” They include:

  • • Cares about my career and development

  • • Cares about me personally

  • • Listens well

  • • Lets me make decisions

#2: Put Me in, Coach!

If you survey your employees regularly, you already know that your most capable and ambitious people crave coaching. Study after study shows that effective coaching boosts productivity, raises employee engagement, and—maybe most important—increases retention rates. This correlation makes perfect sense. People tolerate being told what to do. But they value and embrace opportunities to improve their skills and reach their career goals. The more you can provide these opportunities—and convince your team that you support their development—the better they will perform and the longer they will stick around.


In fact, according to the Corporate Leadership Council, “Employees who report to managers effective at development perform up to 25% better than their peers, are 29% more committed, and are up to 40% more likely to stay at the organization.”


These numbers prove that adding coaching to your skillset translates directly into better business performance. And in the never-ending quest to attract and retain talented people, showing a sincere concern for and commitment to their long-term growth and development can give you an important edge.

#3: You CAN Get Some Satisfaction

Coaching is clearly good for employees and good for business. But it’s also good for you—both in terms of performance and job satisfaction. Managers who coach tap into the powerful, proven connections between employee development and business outcomes. When you apply coaching to your management role, you open the door to deeper insights into what motivates your employees, what they struggle with, and how they can add more value to your team. You form deeper connections that unlock hidden opportunities and inspire innovative new ways of thinking and doing business. But you also gain the personal satisfaction that comes from actively helping other people develop and reach their full potential. This all translates into better performance as a manager. But these human connections also add a deeper sense of meaning to the work you do every day. 

#4: Shifting the Balance

News flash: Your job is stressful and demanding. With constant pressure to meet the next objective, complete the next task, and pour water on the latest fire, it’s difficult to even imagine adding another new element to your job.


This explains why most managers spend the vast majority of their time on tactical, short-term management tasks, whether they like it or not. It also explains the large gap between managers who theoretically support the benefits of coaching—and those who actually develop the skills they need to take advantage of those benefits.


There is obviously no easy answer to this dilemma. But if you fully understand and embrace the value of coaching, develop a specific personal plan for integrating coaching techniques into your everyday management role, and then start taking incremental steps toward your coaching goals, the results you experience will naturally cause the balance to shift toward a more coaching-oriented approach to your job.


It’s also a good idea to investigate and take advantage of training and development options in your organization that will help you develop coaching skills. There are likely online or self-directed options you can squeeze into gaps in your schedule to get the ball rolling.


But regardless of where and how you start, you will be joining a growing movement of managers who increasingly depend on coaching to attract and retain better people, help their employees make the most of their skills and talents, and find more meaning and personal satisfaction in their jobs. 


Looking for More Insights?


Check out our e-book to learn more about how you can use coaching techniques to engage your employees.