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How (and Why) Managers Serve as Coaches in the Workplace

January 2, 2018

Managers as coaches

In the last few year, the idea of coaching has become a popular way to think about how to manage. Don’t be a manager, be a coach, is the advice that new leaders are given. But what does it mean to be a coach, and how does it apply to what a manager does?

Let’s start by thinking about what it means to be a manager. Why do companies need people in a supervisory role? When we think about how work gets done from the bottom up, most people feel like they could get along just fine without their manager. But when we look more broadly across an organization, the role makes a lot more sense.

The CEO’s job is to create a vision and move the organization forward in a profitable way. Typically, executives do that work by breaking the vision down into goals for each department: Research and development teams create new products. Production teams produce the existing products. Marketing and sales find new customers, and customer support onboards and supports those new clients. Finance processes the money coming in and makes sure we don’t spend more than we earn.

To do all that work, we typically need teams to work together, and that’s where managers come in. They need to see the larger goals of the organization, and then break them down into projects and targets. So using that as a model, the manager’s job is pretty clear and simple. In the old days, this process was completed in a rigid, command-and-control fashion. I tell you what to do, and you do it. But people don’t typically enjoy working that way. Human beings are social and creative. We each have our own dreams, and we’re all trying to find that balance of meaningful work and an enjoyable life

3 practices of effective coaching

This is where the idea of coaching proves valuable. The best managers are able to see and understand the vision created by the company’s leadership, while at the same time knowing the individual goals and strengths of each team member. Talent-centered leadership is all about taking those two elements and finding a way to create an environment where each individual feels engaged and motivated, while also moving the team as a whole toward those goals. The tool great managers use to do that is coaching.

Coaching involves three fundamental practices:

Listening. To be an effective coach, a manager needs to first develop a strong, trust-based relationship with each member of his or her team. The most effective way to do this is through regular conversations and active listening.

Creating a collaborative definition of success. What does it mean to win? When we look at sports teams, where many coaching models originate, we always see a clear definition of success. But in business, “winning” can mean a variety of things. In the coaching and development process, both the manager and that team member need to define what success looks like for the organization as a whole, the team, and the individual.

Providing actionable feedback. Once a shared goal is identified, the manager coaches by providing feedback, tools, and resources to help guide an employee’s development. This means encouragement when things are challenging, guidance when new skills are being developed, and reinforcement when new habits are developed successfully.

Thinking like a coach means understanding the elements that make each individual successful and how they combine to achieve the goals of the team. A great coach is someone who has the ability to see that overlap between individual strengths, organizational needs, and development opportunities.

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About The Author

Katy Tynan is an expert in the future of work. She is the author of How Did I Not See This Coming: The New Manager’s Guide to Avoiding Total Disaster (ATD Press, December 2017) and Survive Your Promotion. Tynan is the founder and chief talent strategist at Liteskip Consulting Group.

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