Call to mind a great coach you admire. What does this coach do right? Perhaps, he or she is good at teaching the rules of the game or at determining which roles each person must play on the team. Maybe this coach is great at facilitating all team members to get along and play fair together. In addition, this coach probably knows how to get the most out of people through positive feedback and encouraging words.

Well, guess what? These same coaching skills are needed for managers in getting the most out of their people at work.

What is the Difference between Managing and Coaching?

A manager’s role is very important. Managers need to pay attention to the bottom line and check on the following:

  • Are activities on track in order to meet current goals?
  • Is everyone clear on the objectives?
  • Has the budget been met?
  • Are current plans sufficient in order to meet changing demands?
  • Have customers’ needs been met?

And yet, managing effectively does not automatically make you a great coach. To understand the difference, consider this example: Imagine a bus with a sports team driving to a game. The bus driver, aka manager, has to make sure that the team will reach the destination on time. Along the way, the driver checks that everyone has a seat belt fastened, that people are not making too much noise, and that everyone stays in their seat. The driver/manager needs compliance and people to understand and follow the rules to ensure a safe and productive journey.

The coach, aka leader, has another role on this trip. The coach must make sure that the team is comfortable during this long journey and that players are sitting with those they enjoy. The coach worked hard to prepare everyone for this game. The coach wants to ensure that everyone’s needs are met during the trip. The coach knows what to expect. The coach is always ready to listen to any questions and/or feedback during the drive. Prior to the trip, the coach had many practices with this team. The coach worked hard to get to the point when everyone had the right idea of what to do. Given a choice during the trip, this coach was more focused on observing and giving feedback than evaluations that were rigid and one sided.

Without the driver, the bus wouldn’t arrive.

Without the coach, the players wouldn’t be prepared to play at their best.

However, for this team to win the game, both managing and coaching are required.

Why Coaching is Good for Business

Coaching is not an alternative form of managing. It is the best method of working with people to ensure both the business and its people are developing and making progress towards the most important goals. When people feel listened to, respected, and paid attention to, they in turn feel more vested in the business, perform better, and are happier in their work. An environment of coaching is not another fad for some managers; it is a mandatory strategy for all managers to get the best out of the people they lead.

The Cost of Punting Coaching

Imagine this situation: Phil, a systems analyst, has a report due to his manager in the morning. He ran out of time at work and figured out that when he got home, he would finish it in the evening. Unfortunately, his family had other plans. Phil forgot that tonight was his daughter’s musical performance at school. (OK, he thought he would just stay up late and finish this report after they got home.) The family returned home around 9pm. Tired yet determined, Phil sat down at the table to pull out the report. His wife, however, reminded him that tonight was the only time they had together to help her decide on the schedule for her upcoming master’s degree program. It was also due the next day, and this was the only time to figure out together the schedule, finances, and so on. Needless to say that after putting the kids to bed and working together on his wife’s plans, it was 11:30pm and Phil could no longer keep his eyes open.

In the morning, Phil approached his manager to let her know that he would need another day for this report. But before he could say anything, his manager barked, “Where is the report?’’ without even a good morning. As Phil started to explain his prior evening and what prevented him from completing his work, his manager suddenly said, “Phil, I am tired of excuses. It seems you may not be the person for this job and I need to reconsider your future role here.”

Well, the next day, Phil managed to submit his report but the quality was poor. He was upset that his manager failed to give him a chance to explain why he was late. Shortly after submitting this report, Phil got the flu over stress, called in sick for several days, and cancelled the family vacation because he was worried now about losing his job. A few months later, Phil quit. Twelve months later, the organization rehired and retrained Phil’s replacement at a cost of $75,000, which included a combination of recruiting costs, temp agency costs, and the increased costs a year later to rehire and retrain. So this manager’s response cost the company $75,000, lost time, and — most important — the loss of a very good worker.

What would a coach have done?

A good coach probably would have listened to Phil from the beginning and then provided helpful feedback versus direct evaluation without understanding all the facts. Would this approach have made the report on time? No, but it would have saved a good worker and the organization money in the long run, and, as a result of showing empathy to Phil, the coach would have gotten a better report one day later.

How to be an Effective Coach

What are some qualities of an effective coach? An effective coach . . .

  • listens before speaking.
  • uses feedback and not evaluation.
  • is a good teacher.

Good coaching requires time for listening, observing, and then responding in a way that always balances the business need and the need for preserving a person’s pride and self-worth. The great coach knows this is the best way to work with people to get great work done. The effective coach asks questions leading the person down the best path given the situation.

. The good coach knows that people tend to be their own worst critics when things go wrong. What’s needed are new ideas, directions, and empathy to show that a person is respected and cared about above all else. A great coach knows that this is the best way to get great results with people!

The Benefit from Coaching Feedback Versus Management Evaluation

Just like the child who gets reprimanded by an angry parent and then later repeats the same behavior, adults are much the same. Better to provide positive, forward-looking feedback that enables learning and development. As a result of technology and multiple opportunities, people today have more choices for what and how they do their work than ever before in our history. Smart organizations know that the way to a successful bottom line is through the retention and development of its employees. Management coaching is not only good for business; it is a competitive advantage.

Craig Nathanson


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