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Managers Can Be Effective Coaches

An interesting article by Jeff Matthews(1) suggests that much of the training provided for manager-as-coaches has not dealt with the particular challenges that managers face in the corporate environment, in particular the power imbalance, a vested interest in the outcome of the coaching and strong pressures to be directive in a coaching conversation.  It’s no wonder then, that the employee can be left trying to discern the real intent of their manager or worse still, is suspicious of the manager’s motives.

These challenges make it difficult for managers to take coaching skills back to the workplace.  But it’s not impossible.  Focusing on the ‘when’ of coaching is an important start.  The ‘when’ is just as important as the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of coaching.  In our research we have identified the following coachable moments that managers can potentially engage in.  The further you go down the list (below), the more multi-faceted are the coaching skills required.  In our coach training programmes, we drill down on these coachable moments, to increase manager’s appreciation for the breadth of opportunities in the work place for using coaching skills.  Some commonplace coachable moments are:

  • Personal Development Reviews
  • Feedback – giving and receiving
  • Counsel/advise (Pull) – Initiated by coachee
  • Counsel/advise (Push) – initiated by coach
  • Team Dynamics
  • Skills and Knowledge Transfer
  • Problem Solving
  • Process Improvement
  • Quarterly Objectives
  • Interviewing through Inquiry
  • Team Meetings
  • Investigations
  • Project Teams communication.

You’ll notice that Feedback situations (defined above) include both giving and receiving.  It takes courage as a manager to overtly ask for and graciously receive feedback from one’s employees.  And yet it sets the tone for the relationship as well as providing definite possibilities for enhanced leadership from the manager.

We find that when coaching is used overtly in a range of situations, people are more likely to see the benefits of it.  If coach training is not seen in isolation, but capitalises on the good things that are happening, it is much more likely to be owned and taken forward by others.  This then makes it more likely that managers will use coaching skills for performance-related situations.

In addition, we have come to appreciate there is strong anecdotal evidence for true manager-as-coach success stories that are marked by:

  • The manager and employee having complementary skills, and respecting each other for these.
  • A manager who cares enough to understand what their employees want out of the relationship in order for employees to be successful.

Quality relationships do exist and even flourish within organisations which do not necessarily support a coaching framework.  They flourish because the manager sets the tone for them to flourish.  If managers have built up a substantial base of Relationship Equity(2), then coaching is naturally happening.  They may not call it coaching of course.

So as manager-as-coach, we suggest that you, with your employees:

  • Get to know what your employees want out the relationship
  • Seek feedback on how you are seen as a leader
  • Identify coachable moments
  • Identify options for doing things differently and coach within those
  • Look at your employee relationships and identify areas for improvement
  • Get to know your natural relating style and the styles of your direct reports and work from that knowledge
  • Acknowledge it is a work in progress and keep working to improve.


1 Can Line Managers Ever be Effective Coaches?  Jeff Matthews, Managing Partner, The Madison Group, Business Leadership Review VII:II, Association of MBAs, April 2010

2 Relationship Equity is defined by Altris as the healthiness of the ledger of our investment in a significant business relationship relative to the effort we expend.


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