Can a Manager Coach?

Managers in many organizations today are expected to ‘coach’ their employees. Can a manager be a coach? Well, yes … and no. Look for an excellent manager or leader and for sure that person will be using the skills of a coach to help their staff define and achieve their goals in alignment with the organization’s vision and direction.

Many good managers instinctively know, or have learned, how to make coach-like behaviour part of their management style. How do they do this? By listening acutely, questioning, challenging, supporting, mentoring, offering problem solving assistance, and providing non-judgmental feedback. It comes naturally to them because they care about their employees, believe in them, and create the conditions for their success. They understand that optimising people’s potential and performance is their role.

Coaching is essentially a people skill, and people skills are hugely valuable and valued in organizations, so it makes sense for managers to hone their ability to coach effectively.

But is a manager or a leader in an organization a coach in the same sense as a professional coach brought in to work with individuals in an organization? I would say not.

A professional coach also questions, challenges, supports and mentors. However, the coaching relationship is fundamentally different from the manager/employee relationship. There is clearly a power imbalance in the latter. A manager, regardless of how empowering she or he is, is still responsible for hiring, firing and performance management. A professional coach plays no such role and is entirely devoted to serving the needs and desired results of the client or coachee — and, in organizational coaching, as defined by the client’s manager/supervisor or organizational sponsor.

Coaching is at its core a different way of viewing people, and a different way of behaving towards them. It requires – like any skill, attitude or belief – commitment, practice and time to develop.

Organizational leaders at all levels would do well to question how they view people, and honestly self-assess their own style of managing others. As John Whitmore, author of Coaching for Performance, so aptly put it, ”coaching is a nicer way to do business”.

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