Can Your Managers Also Be Good Coaches?

Workers who perceive their manager as a coach are eight times more inclined to be highly engaged compared to those whose managers do not adopt a coaching style.

ITPro Today

March 1, 2024

3 Min Read
coach writing on an easel pad

If you're a manager today, you are likely expected to "coach" your employees. That's a good thing: Forrester analysis shows that employees who feel like they have a coaching manager are eight times more likely to be highly engaged compared to their peers with managers who don't take a coaching approach. Coaching is also linked to higher individual performance and confidence, along with organizational benefits. As a trained coach, I've experienced both sides of those benefits.

So all coaching must be good, then, right? Hold on. As I explain in my recent Forrester report, Managers Can't Be Coaches, But They Need To Be More Coach-Like (client-only access), there are two important things you should know:

  1. Coaching is commonly used to describe many behaviors, few of which are actual coaching. Many managers describe coaching as telling someone what to do, giving feedback, or teaching them how to do something (none of those are coaching). The misunderstanding of coaching stymies managers before they even start.

  2. Managers and their direct reports are not clearly set up for successful coaching outcomes. Research shows that a line-manager relationship dampens the impact on coaching outcomes. Why? The answer is obvious: Even when all other conditions are perfect — you have a high-quality, trusting relationship, and there is readiness and willingness to be coached — the power dynamic between a manager and their direct report inhibits the vulnerability that opens the door to the benefits of coaching.

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What is a manager to do? They can maximize the drivers of coaching outcomes — readiness to be coached and the quality of the coaching relationship — by incorporating coaching skills into their management style. These include:

  • Providing a safe, judgment-free space for their employee to test out new ideas, which would build trust and support the habit of critical thinking and problem-solving over constantly seeking direction and answers.

  • Asking questions more than telling, which would help managers get to the root of objections and challenges faster.

  • Asking permission before giving feedback, providing redirection or advice, which fosters more respect and trust and ensures the employee's ability to listen and absorb what the manager wants to say.

  • Approaching a situation with curiosity ("I wonder what's happening here") rather than judgment ("something is wrong"), which would prevent the mistake of jumping to conclusions or making incorrect assumptions.

Adding coach-like expectations to the workload of managers already stretched to their limits without providing additional support won't help. For managers to be more coach-like, they need:

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  • Time. Coaching interactions and developing a trusting relationship take time. Leaders need to manage capacity and expectations appropriately.

  • Training. Maximizing the key drivers for effective workplace coaching doesn't come naturally to most managers, even if they want to be better managers. They need specific training and reinforcement to counteract habits such as jumping to offer suggestions, advice, judgment, criticism, and feedback.

  • Support. Managers are direct reports, too. They have their own hopes, fears, and career aspirations, and they look to their managers for advocacy and support. Leaders who manage these managers must provide them with the same support, empowerment, and coach-like management that they expect them to deliver to their teams.

Starting with these principles and key enabling steps, you can help your managers set realistic targets for increasing the coach-like behaviors of which they are capable and from which their teams will benefit.

In my full report, Forrester clients can learn more details on how to provide managers with what they need to augment their coach-like behavior without overburdening themselves or veering off into noncoaching behaviors that will thwart them. If you want to know more, schedule an inquiry call or guidance session with me, and I can walk you through your next steps to a more coach-like outcome for your managers and teams.

This article originally appeared on Forrester's Featured Blogs. 

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