Coaching For Managers

By PJ STEVENS Published 24th Oct 2016
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As a manager, when should I coach?

It's a question we are often asked when working with team leaders and managers; when is the right time to coach, and not to coach, their team members.

Firstly let’s agree that coaching staff at work is not always the answer and there is no hard and fast rule as to when to coach. That said, there are times when coaching conversations will absolutely be the right, desired and most effective thing to do.

If the building is on fire, coaching is probably not the right thing to do. In fact, telling, directing and prescribing what to do might be preferable. Perhaps like going to a doctor, he diagnoses the problem, tells the patient what it is, prescribes a cure and directs the patient how to take it.

Sometimes, in certain situations, being told what to do works.

Let’s consider what coaching is and what it is not. Coaching is not telling, directing, managing, manipulating, training or mentoring Sometimes it is not easy nor an easy option. Coaching is a two-way conversation, listening, engaging, challenging and it is developmental and possibly uncomfortable. Therefore a Coaching Conversation is one that builds understanding and awareness in order to take action. 

Coaching is a proven way to unearth opportunities, to understand and develop others, to connect with feelings, values and motivations, and to improve performance. However, managers are often promoted because of their expertise and knowledge. They like certainty, to be in charge, to problem solve and to know the answers. This habit or skill may work in limited situations but will not work longer term, nor will it improve engagement, leadership and performance. Quite the opposite; telling, or ordering, is a great way to kill people’s motivation and engagement. Telling can also be dangerous as it assumes the manager knows best, knows it all, or thinks that there is no better way nor new information.

In certain situations and projects, I believe ‘telling’ should be on the Risk Register as it can potentially lead to failure of projects and cultures. 

Somewhere in the middle of certainty of telling and the uncertainty of coaching, is informing. You may need to inform staff about legislation or legal procedures that must be adhered to. These might include building regulations where failure to meet regulations and standards might make a building unsaleable or even condemned. 

What if you have to make someone redundant, for example, is that a time to coach? Probably not. It’s a time to share information effectively and succinctly, and perhaps discuss options. But if a decision has been made, and as the manager you have to share the information, do not try and turn it into a telling conversation in a coaching style. Keep it simple, and share the information clearly.

Information can be used to tell or coach. Some managers might use information to tell staff or colleagues what to do, or even using information to get their own way or direct people to the outcome the manager wants. Leaders, however, are aware that using information from which to coach can be a very effective way of uncovering and developing performance and change. 


A busy manager might say; ‘given this information, this is what you must do’.

A leader might stop and ask; ‘given this information, what do you think we could do?’

The latter turns a given piece of information into a coaching conversation to connect with the other person’s interests, strengths, ideas and knowledge. The coaching conversation can in some cases help both leader and coachee move from the known to the unknown, discovering and mining potential that exists. 

Businesses might use information from Employee Engagement surveys to coach staff to understand more and agree goals or use Role Excellence Profiles to coach change across the business improving culture and performance.

Coaching conversations can last from a few minutes by the water cooler to more structured ongoing coaching. 

Whilst in this document I have referred to managers and leaders but in truth, to really develop performance by tapping into the potential that exists in business, all team members can coach each other, as in its simplest form coaching is really just a good quality conversation. Rather than allowing colleagues to moan and whine teammates can challenge, ask good questions or at least simply refuse to listen to the moaning. 

In summary there is no simple answer. If the building is on fire than coaching is probably not the answer but if you want to connect with others, help them develop, free up your time as a leader, save money and improve performance then consider coaching. 

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Published 24th Oct 2016
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