What it Really Takes for a Manager to Coach

Discussing Business ProjectAsk anyone about their best boss and you will get a familiar list:

  • My boss cared about me as a person
  • My boss listened to me and helped me grow
  • My boss was clear about what was expected and gave me feedback—even when it wasn’t pretty
  • My boss was a person I respected and admired
  • My boss was consistent
  • My boss was always there for me

Guess what? These are all coaching behaviors.

The evidence is clear that these behaviors contribute to trust, passion, and performance at work. (See footnotes for links to research.)

As a part of preparing managers and leaders to go through our Coaching Essentials class, we ask them to assess their own natural tendencies and behaviors. For example, we ask them:

  • To what extent are you a role model for the behaviors you expect in others?
  • How much time do you spend building positive relationships with your direct reports?
  • How natural is it for you to collaborate?
  • How frequently do you listen more than talk and avoid distractions when listening?

Our goal is for participants to gain a deep understanding of their own habits and assumptions—and get completely clear about how to work against those tendencies to effectively use the coaching process and refine their skills.

It becomes apparent to all participants—even before they set foot in class—that with these questions we are essentially asking them to become their best possible selves. In fact, we have had participants in class narrow their eyes at us and say “You’re asking me to become a better person, aren’t you?”

This always gets a laugh, because it is kind of true. But only kind of. We aren’t saying you have to become a better person or get a personality transplant before you can be a good coach. That would be absurd and impossible. What we are saying is, when you put your coach hat on, you need to really behave yourself. You have to redirect your own impulses and needs and put the person you are coaching first.

This is hard but doable—and it requires a fundamental shift in mindset. Before a manager or leader can be an effective coach, they must commit to applying uncommon amounts of self awareness, self regulation, and discipline. Coaching is, ultimately, a service the leader provides to the employee.

If I had to choose the one thing that makes the biggest difference for managers, it would be the shift in mindset from “I’m the boss, do what I say” to “I am in service to you and I will do everything in my power to help you be successful.” Managers who use coaching as part of their toolkit are stepping up to become their best possible selves.



In their 2006 research paper Keen to Help? Managers’ Implicit Person Theories and Their Subsequent Employee Coaching, Peter Heslin, Don Vandewalle, and Gary Latham noted that manager coaching can facilitate employee development and performance, can have a positive impact on productivity, and can inspire improvements in an employee’s ability to master their projects and tasks.

In his paper A Strategic Approach to Coaching in Organizations: A Case Study (2012) Paul Steven Turner found that a coaching style can “directly and significantly impact favorably on the bottom line” through increased sales, better customer service, and improved productivity.

coaching-research-reportNew 2017 research by The Ken Blanchard Companies titled Coaching Skills: The Missing Link for Leaders found that leaders who are perceived as using coaching behaviors (Facilitating, Inspiring, and Guiding) create a sense of positive work affect or emotion in their followers and that individuals who perceive their managers as exhibiting coaching behaviors are more likely to trust their leaders.



3 thoughts on “What it Really Takes for a Manager to Coach

  1. I loved what you said about the shift in mindset from “I’m the boss, do what I say” to “I am in service to you and I will do everything in my power to help you be successful.” Like Ken Blanchard says a top goal for any manager should be to make sure they are in service of their direct reports’ development.

Leave a Reply