Managers Can’t Be Coaches

If you’re a manager looking to coach, you need to adjust your expectations. Managers cannot be coaches. Coaching is a vehicle for learning. When we are learning things can get messy. Ideally, when working with a coach, we can completely let our guards down, we can be vulnerable and say every messy thing on our minds, we can confess our biggest fears and blunders, because we know this: our coach has only our best interests at heart, our coach believes in us always, our coach does not hold judgment; ever.

When you’re a manager, best intentions aside, you always have to hold judgment. That’s your job. Your job is to keep an eye on performance, that includes evaluation. And that awareness will inevitably find its way into a coaching relationship.

What a manager can do is take a coaching stance.This isn’t just a matter of semantics, it’s about preserving the integrity of the role of a coach.

If you’re a manager looking to coach, you need to be committed to doing a good amount of work on the front-end. The first step is getting clear on your purpose. 

The most important part of purpose is that there is an explicit and shared definition. Ask yourself, “why does coaching exist in my practice? In our organization?” I encourage you to not just do this with coaching, but with other core managerial functions, such as evaluation and feedback. Once you have an answer, ask that same question to your manager. Ideally, you’re aligned on your answers. 

Here’s one way to think about these three functions: 

  • The purpose of assessment is to have accountability
  • The purpose of feedback is to align on practice
  • The purpose of coaching is to support growth

You don’t have to agree with this, but you need to have your own articulation, one that is shared by your manager and those you manage. 

If you know you’re looking to grow your ability to skillfully take a coaching stance, check out The Art of Coaching When You’re the Boss. In just one afternoon you’ll have what you need to begin incorporating this key leadership tool.