Managers as Coaches? You and Your Workers Aren’t Ready For That

This isn’t necessarily a new concept, but it’s one that is popping up a ton lately in conversation.

The basic concept is that we should push our managers and supervisors to be “coaches” to their employees, not managers. The view from Organizational Development and Training folks is that coaches are more of a representative of great leadership than we would normally think of when we think of managers and supervisors.

Um, what?

How coaches behave

I’m not sure what people are thinking, but I’ve been “coached” and have been a coach most of my life. When you tell me I should “act” more like a coach and less like a manager, I get very confused.

Let me give you a little insight to how most coaches behave:

  • We yell. Usually a lot. Yeah, you don’t see that at your 8 year-old’s soccer match, but go to a high school football game, basketball game, soccer match, etc. Don’t even get me started on college!
  • Our vocabulary consists of about six words I don’t use on this blog very often.
  • Our intent is to get our players to be a more aggressive version of themselves for a short period of time to help us win a game.
  • I’ll make you cry. It’s actually a goal of mine. To push you beyond your comfort zone so you’ll breakdown and comeback stronger
  • If you work really hard and give it your all, I’ll give you a hug and maybe pat you on the backside. If you fail, I’ll probably yell more.
  • I’ll publicly extol the virtues of team, while behind the scenes push internal competition beyond a healthy level.
  • I love it when my players want to kill each other, and having a fight at a practice isn’t really a bad thing.

Not a process to put employees through

This is the reality of coaching once you get beyond very young youth sports where everyone gets a participation medal. This is real life. Not every sport, not every coach.

But if you took the top 100 most successful coaches in every sport, you would be shocked at their behind the scenes behaviors. You wouldn’t like most of them. You wouldn’t want them around your kid.

But, let’s go ahead and teach our managers to be coaches!

Here’s the deal: What training and OD are teaching our managers to be, are not coaches. It’s an altruistic version of what they want coaches to be.

They believe coaches are there to just help you along to get better and build great teams. Which conceptually is true. How it’s done is not something your training department or OD would want to sign up for!

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It’s a difficult concept. Most athletes who have really been coached at a high level get it.

You aren’t ready for how coaches operate

Coaches are super hard on you because that’s the only way to make yourself better and win championships. They’ll push you beyond what you think you’re capable of. In the end you usually end up respecting your coach and are thankful for the pain they put you through.

Mostly, it ends up good. But is that a process you really, truly want your managers and supervisors to put your employees through?

Doubtful. You want all the outcomes of a great coach, but you’re not willing to allow them to go through the process of how a great coach gets his or her team ready for battle.

Give us the result without the process? It just doesn’t work that way.

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


8 Comments on “Managers as Coaches? You and Your Workers Aren’t Ready For That

  1. Please, Tim. The goal is not to scream at employees although that obviously happens. I’ve watched many football and basketball games — baseball is a little tougher to watch what unfolds in a dugout. The idea is to provide constructive feedback and, yes, coaching when a project or task is completed. It’s analogus to when the team runs to the sidelines and the coach uses photos of recent plays to discuss what they could do better. That has to be far more beneficial and easier on everyone than those year-end 15 minute “your rating is . .” sessions.

  2. Tim, I think you have been exposed to many poor examples of sports coaching, who these days often have a sports psychology (Nideffer) background. Executive, transition and business coaches in general often have an integral (Wilbur), and psychology background. This pre-disposes us to use empathy, emotional intelligence(Goleman) and negotiation techniques to engage clients and cause them to willingly shift behaviour. Many of us are involved with guiding managers to adopt these techniques, along with ethical persuasion (Cialdini) and the interaction process(DDI). Those we have equipped become useful change-agents and are often become transformational leaders(Bass). The only parallel I see with your experience is that all coaches strive to see growth in line with potential, despite personal comfort zones. Great coaches listen, connect and ask questions, to guide coachees towards their chosen goals. These skills can be taught, and thus managers can indeed learn them.

    1. I think you are missing Tim’s point, which is that sports coaching is in every sense a top down “do-as-I-say” approach to development, and not an interactive engagement such as you describe. The point is that the term “coach,” which has been adopted (for the time being) by business is a misnomer when applied to the kind of work you are describing. Great coaches know how to motivate, but that is about the only similarity “business coaching” has to sport coaching, and should therefore perhaps be better served with a different label.

      1. Chad. I commend Tim’s contrarian view, and I’m happy to be corrected if wrong. I simply disagree that most coaches behave in the way described. At least not in Africa. I agree that the label of “coach” is at times unhelpful, just as the term “emotional intelligence” is widely challenged as a form of intelligence, and “employee engagement” is easily confused with “customer engagement”, “work engagement” or even being engaged prior to marriage. If the term exists in the public domain, however, only consultants (like me) are likely to be well served by creating sexy new, “clearer” terms…

  3. They say “coaching,” but clearly the intent is mentoring, not coaching. As a verb, coach is a fine word, and works well to describe the activity that you want to see your leaders engaged in. As a noun, it describes pretty much exactly what Tim discusses in this article. I went through enough of that in college, thank you. We get so hung up on the latest buzzword, but we all know that mentoring…really discipling your leaders…is what is usually meant by the ever changing, politically accurate, trendy word of the day.

  4. Good points! One of the many inspirational lines my old football coach used to use when he thought we weren’t measuring up was, “You can’t make chicken salad out of chicken sh@&! Try saying that as a manager…

  5. Intriguing title Tim one that evokes discussion and that’s just fine. I think you choose a strange way to mix and to devide in this post. You mix sports and business worlds to easily – they are not the same. At the other hand you devide leadership and coaching where they could be much more connected. Coaching as a leadershiop style is very well possible and unfortunatly sport coaches are often not the best examples.

  6. Good article.

    Nice to read a contrarian point of view – without such critical thinking, we tend to adopt concepts without examining who is the real beneficiary.

    Coaching has become an industry, anybody can pay a fee and get certified as a coach. Really? In many cases, it benefits not the people being coached but the coaching industry that is churning out ‘certified’ coaches by the thousands. I know of hundreds of certified coaches who have spent a fortune to get certified and are struggling to eke out a living. How effective will these gentlemen be as coaches?

    It is like healthcare in India, people affording to pay a huge capitation fee become doctors, and their interest is not to treat the patients but to enrich themselves, even if it means subjecting the patient to unnecessary diagnostics and procedures. Coaching also has a tendency to become an end in itself.

    Coaching works when the coach is both competent (skilled in his craft) and is a person of character ( integrity). A rare to find species indeed.

    Very few managers can be coaches because their focus is on operations (Q on Q results) and developing people in this era of downsizing and high attrition is not an easy proposition to implement. Coaching is certainly not a cure-it-all panacea for mismanagement.

    But where the company’s leadership is committed, the vision is clear, strategy is in place and resources are available, coaching is certainly an excellent pedagogy to develop people.

    So the organizational context is more important than the content and certificate, which most coaches and coaching companies seem to emphasize on.

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