Why a great manager must first be a coach

April 24, 2024
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We know that the best managers operate as coaches. The problem is: many managers were never trained to be coaches. So what is a coach, and how can a manager grow in the skill of coaching?

From Gallup's research on what differentiates average from great managers, we know that the best managers operate as coaches.

They are familiar with the individual strengths and weaknesses of their direct reports, and know how to position them in roles that best bring out their natural talents.

The problem is: many managers were never trained to be coaches.

In fact, the term "coaching" is most often used in sports, while organizations like BetterUp have made coaching more applicable to wellbeing and life goals.

Perhaps as a manager, you think your sole role is to drive performance and keep your employee on task.

The problem is that performance is inextricably tied to the employee's mental and emotional state. We are not robots but humans and in order to tap into performance, the manager must talk emotion.

Perhaps you are afraid that becoming your employee's coach means inevitably turning into their therapist.

Therapy, unlike coaching, is a clinical treatment designed to treat mental illness.

Simply talking to an employee about their emotions does not make you a therapist, although it is important as a coach, to know when to refer them to a therapist when you detect signs that they are trending towards the red zone on the mental health continuum.

So, what is a coach, and how can a manager grow in the skill of coaching?

The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.

When an employee feels like they are supported by their manager and are given the resources they need to reach their potential at work, they are much more likely to be engaged and perform at a higher level.

The first step, then, in growing as a coach in a managerial role, is understanding what your employee needs.

This may differ from individual to individual but there are common needs that form the basis for each individual.

According to self-determination theory, these core needs are:

  1. autonomy - having the freedom to make key decisions about how you work
  2. relatedness - having meaningful relationships at work
  3. competence - having the ability and resources to perform well at work.

There are other theoretical models of what form our core needs and how they influence motivation, including the famous Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

So a good first question a manager could ask themselves is:

What are the basic needs of my employees? And are they being fulfilled?

If the answer to this question is not clear, this is an essential question that should be asked at the next one-on-one meeting you have with your employee.

Here are some variations of that question for your next meeting:

  • What are you wanting from this job? Are you finding it?
  • Are you lacking in any resources you need to do your job well?
  • How can I help you? What do you need from me?

While a manager may give directives or track performance, a coach learns to ask the right questions.

The best managers learn to do both.



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