Managers as Coaches, Part I: Why Coaching?

As a talent management professional, you know how important it is to make sure the managers in your company have the skills to bring out peak performance from their direct reports. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here: Your middle managers are the key to your organization’s successful future, but they’re overburdened and undertrained. I think one of the skills that can really get managers up-to-speed on interacting with their employees is through the coaching approach.

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The concept of coaching has been around a long time in the sports world. Everyone knows that when you want to turbo-boost your game, you need a coach who can guide you and give you feedback on ways to improve. Why the word coach, though? A long time ago, a coach was a wagon, typically drawn by horses, that was used to move people around before there were trains and buses and cars and planes. A coach needed a driver, often called a coachman and eventually just coach. So a coach is a person who moves people from point A to point B. In sports, those points aren’t geographic locations. Instead, they’re levels of skill and mastery. A coach can help you take your skill from a lower level to a high level. The coach metaphor has always been used in non-sports activities for a long time as well. It’s pretty common for voice teachers to offer vocal coaching services. Any kind of team often has a coach. I was on two different teams in high school, the speech and debate team as well as the track team, and they both had coaches. The word coach is often used in place of the word tutor because they’re largely synonymous when it comes to someone helping a person get better at something.

Bill Gates himself said it really well: “Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast, or a bridge player.”

Nowadays you can have a life coach, a career coach, a wealth coach, a relationship coach, an executive coach, a health and wellness coaches, and many more. The whole point of the coaching movement is simple: Everyone can benefit from working with a coach. In fact, given the long list of different kinds of coaching, everyone can probably benefit from several different coaches! And the workplace is no different. Every single one of your employees needs a coach to bring out their best, and that’s exactly what your managers should be. But are they prepared to do it? Chances are good they’re not.

A Harvard Business Publishing paper called Danger in the Middle: Why Midlevel Managers Aren’t Ready to Lead highlights this untenable situation, likening the current employee development environment as a “barbell” in which efforts are concentrated at the ends (entry-level and senior-level) but light in the middle. As one study by Bersin & Associates noted in 2011, “Middle managers receive fewer resources, manage more people, and are less engaged than all other employee groups.” I think one of the best ways to counter this unfortunate trend is to equip your managers to be coaches.

In fact, Monique Valcour, writing for Harvard Business Review in an article titled You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach, notes the following: “Regular communication around development — having coaching conversations — is essential. In fact, according to recent research, the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching” (source).

But what does it really mean for a manager to be a coach? That’s what you’ll find out as you read the articles in this Managers as Coaches series.

August 18, 2015   Updated :August 19, 2015   coaching, talent management   

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