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Home » Blog » Manager as a Coach- The Opening Viewpoint

A manager is often said to be the first rung on the conventional ladder of leadership. While the upper echelons of leadership are vision-oriented, managerial roles are concerned more with operations. That being said, managers would always do well to draw from the visionary aspects of leadership or the developmental aspects of coaching depending on the situation or the individual involved. Organisations around the world stand united regarding the most important attributes of a good manager. The ability to elicit the best possible performance from the employees and to motivate their team to achieve their highest potential are considered as the two most important traits required to be a successful manager. Come to think of it, even the role of a coach can be defined on similar terms! Thus, it becomes necessary for the manager to function as a coach in order to better understand the unique strengths of each individual worker. On the basis of this knowledge, managers are able to move employees to the positions where they can be most effective and engaged. In his book, “Coaching for Performance,” leadership development expert the late Sir John Whitmore states: “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.”

The Original Thought

The world seemed to be content with managers as operational figureheads who made sure everybody did what was assigned to them and gave them a fair share of stick if they didn’t. Managers were viewed as the person who would shout orders and do the dirty work when it came to dealing with people, so that the people in suits looked good and could quietly go about business. However, with social and technological revolutions, most organisations began to transition from top-down hierarchies to communities where everyone has a voice. Thus, the image of the manager as somebody on a pedestal as compared to the regular employee has gradually eroded. In its place, we now have the much more approachable ‘manager-as-a-coach’ image that inspires a sense of confidence and oneness within the entire team.

The Cultural Shift

When managers are asked to function in a new role as coaches, a cultural transformation takes place that affects the entire organisation. It all starts with the change in outlook for the manager, who instead of being seen as an enforcer, is now seen as a coach. Employees see that the gap between them and the leadership begins to decrease and gain renewed confidence in their skills. Higher employee engagement follows almost immediately according to Harvard Business Review (HBR), which notes that  “When done right, coaching can also help with employee engagement; it is often more motivating to bring your expertise to a situation than to be told what to do.” Similar to the philosophical debate about free will, an individual’s authority over their own destiny plays a major part in them taking an active interest in the running of the organisation. Research suggests that, whilst an organisation (and a manager) have authority about what work an employee needs to do, the employee could have authority about how they do their work.  It’s something that is often referred to as ’empowerment’, and as something that is in the gift of managers to give to their direct reports; or that individuals should somehow take the initiative to acquire.

The Beginning

Like any other venture, the journey from a manager to a coach also begins on unsure footing, with Harvard Business Review (HBR) reporting that only 2 out of 10 managers have an instinctive understanding of how to coach. In India, we tend to associate managers with consulting companies, and simultaneously managers misappropriate coaching as consulting. When leadership development experts asked managers about their coaching skills, many stated that they already knew how to be good coaches. However, when these same managers were asked to demonstrate their coaching skills, the vast majority offered advice or solutions. They tended to make comments like, “First, you do this,” or “Why don’t you do that?” As so many coaching stalwarts like Marshall Goldsmith and the late Sir John Whitmore have said, coaching is about helping somebody to learn rather than teaching them directly. The goal is never to instruct, it is to co-create. The key word in HBR’s review was ‘instinctive’. So, the good news is that like all competencies, coaching can also be learnt and taught. For a manager, learning to coach doesn’t take long. “The good news is that managers can improve their coaching skills in a short amount of time (15 hours),” according to HBR, “but they do have to invest in learning how to coach in the first place.” Their research shows that after just a few hours of training, managers’ coaching skills improved by an average of 40%.

Managers as coaches will do well to start off with the top two requirements of their teams. The first one is to recognise the team, honour its efforts, and call attention to the strengths and achievements of individuals. Recognition of work well done goes a long way in helping to retain employees and maximise productivity. Secondly, managers as coaches must ‘actively listen’ to the employee. This is a well-established fact that you can’t help someone bring out their strengths unless you first listen closely to what they have to say. If managers prioritise employee voice throughout the company culture, the coaching skill of active listening will remain front of mind for every manager.

Going Forward

Coaching, today, is seen as one of the most effective ways to increase one’s performance in any area of life. Research indicates that ICF-accredited coaches (who are managers at their workplaces and those who use coaching skills in their day-to-day operations with their employees/team), get more work done and have happier, motivated teams.

A painfully obvious fact is that few people are born with great leadership skills- more often, great leaders are made and manufactured. I will leave you with a thought from the International Coaching Federation itself- “Organizations can’t just sit back and hope people will become great leaders. It’s important for coaches to reinforce to managers that they should be given or at least find the tools, resources, and development they need to succeed through internal or external resources.”

Blog you later!