Strategic 360s

Making feedback matter

What is a Manager? What is a Coach?

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My last blog was a brief description of the notion of the “ManagerCoach,” and that continues to be a topic of great interest for me.  Evidently it is of great interest to a number of people given some recent (and not so recent) articles that have popped up.

For example, just recently Human Resource Executive had a piece called, “Employees Improving Bosses” ( that describes a survey of 2700 workers. One of the findings was that approximately a third said their bosses needed to improve in communicating a clear vision of success, motivating employees during adversity, and being open about their own strengths and weaknesses. (That last part is more about the manager than the employee, and is an interesting twist on effective management.)

Also a recent Fortune magazine (Dec. 3, 2012) included a one pager called, “Five Ways to Keep Your Employees Excited” by Verne Harnish (whom I am not familiar with).  The third “way” says, Grow Better Bosses, and includes “Do they know how to coach your employees so they can excel…”

These articles made me recall a study from Google that was described in the New York Times in 2011 regarding the critical abilities of leaders there.  Eight such abilities were identified, the most important of which is coaching, defined as 1) provide specific, constructive feedback  balancing the positive and negative, and 2) have regular one-on-ones, presenting solutions to problems tailored to your employees’ specific strengths.

Finally (for now), we have a client that collected over 4000 responses to leadership effectiveness behaviors with the finding that coaching behaviors are not only the lowest scoring but also the greatest drivers of engagement.

When I ask leadership development professionals in organizations whether their managers need to be better coaches, there is unanimous and vehement agreement. And many organizations have “coaching” built into their training and development curriculum to varying degrees.

But what is a “coach,” particularly in the context of also being a manager/supervisor inside an organization with (usually) multiple direct reports?  There a many mental models of what a “coach” can/should be. The Google model seems to suggest that being a coach is accomplished by telling the employee the “best” way to solve a problem, with “best” defined by the manager on behalf of the organization and focusing on strengths.

To this person, that is not “coaching.” I (and others) believe that the “best” solutions are discovered by the employee (coachee) through a process of discovery facilitated by the coach.  Coaching should also be built upon a foundation of a trusting relationship that is created and sustained over time. That facet is probably the biggest barrier to establishing a coaching relationship where the employee has significant input into determining the best actions to take to make him/her more effective and a better contributor.

There is an important role for the manager to “tell” (i.e., inform) their employees about organizational goals and priorities, and how their jobs contribute to the achievement of those goals.  But at some point the “telling” should drop off and “listening” should replace it. If you are a manager and you are talking/telling more than 50% of the time, you are not being a coach.

©2013 David W. Bracken


Written by David Bracken

January 14, 2013 at 2:58 pm

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