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5 reasons managing cannot succeed without coaching

08 May 2018

At a recent gathering of senior HR Directors and Learning & Development specialists, a CEO observed that it was increasingly evident that some of their best managers were the ones that seemed to do the least overt "managing".

The conversation that then ensued considered what, in today's fast changing and varied work with diverse and distributed teams, was the role of the manager. What constituted "good management"? Most of those gathered unsurprisingly pointed to the manager increasingly taking on the role of coach. A number pointed to iconic effective executives whose styles were essentially characterised by how they worked with and through others, doing more guiding than telling. In effect being more coach than manager.

The growing, somewhat self-congratulatory consensus was suddenly brought to an end by a simple and insightful query coming from an HR Director who had hitherto been rather silent. "So is that what 21st Century management is all about? Should we be training every manager to be, first and foremost, a proficient individual, or team coach?

There was a stunned silence followed by numerous self-conscious murmurs. No one felt bold enough to proffer an opinion. At least not in that public gathering.

In my own reflections following the meeting I found myself reflecting on the managers and teams that we had worked with over the years. I had carried out many 360◦ assessments and reviewed numerous performance reviews. I had also had the privilege of sitting in on senior managers’ discussions about their up and coming executives and leaders at all levels. One thing was clear. The ones that got the best feedback, demonstrated the highest performance and were anecdotally considered as more successful and valuable were those that:

  • delivered individual and team performance that exceeded expectations
  • were appreciated by those who worked for them
  • helped those around them to develop, grow and succeed
  • created an environment that ensured that others could perform well and excel
  • had strong business and working relationships that were built on capability and trust rather than hierarchy and fear
  • shared and celebrated achievement generously and wholeheartedly

If managing is about delivery expected results to time, cost and quality, and coaching about enabling the talent that contributes to exceptional and unexpected delivery to be achieved time and time again, then it seems inappropriate to separate manager as executive from manager as coach. 

So what a "good manager" is and does becomes a matter of the right skill and approach being called into action in an appropriate manner. It becomes a matter of need, awareness, negotiation and application.

I was reminded of a conversation I once had with David Hemery (Olympic 400 Metre Hurdles Gold Medallist) in which he talked about the paradoxical role of the coach. When working with the best most talented staff and teams, the moment before the coach (manager) says "Bad Ball" those in the game already know it. So what is the coach’s role?

It appears that the successful manager / coach helps make talent and capability contribute and excel. Paradoxically this is achieved by being less obsessed with controlling and directing the game in play and more attentive to uncovering, establishing and sustaining the conditions for this team’s or that individual’s best and most effective contribution. Process and outcome merge as attending to one leads seamlessly into achieving the other. Managing and coaching become two inseparable parts of a whole. Together they address some central requirements all teams facing complex, diverse and challenging issues need:

  • Clarity of and commitment to shared goals
  • Tasks and activities well articulated, assigned and organised to move towards the desired goal
  • Valuable and evident outcomes
  • Progress despite unexpected setbacks
  • Effective use of skill, talent and resource in service of shared and meaningful goals

So should we be training every manager to be a coach? Our experience suggests that the answer is Yes because coaching skill and capability is essential for the 21st century manager's success. However being a manager who can coach is not the same as being a professional coach. This is because it is necessarily more attached to outcome which in itself inevitably creates an internal role tension.


The successful executive learns to live with, manage and use this tension. She realises that in her role she cannot succeed without coaching; and that she cannot coach effectively without managing, as the two aid and enable each other. So if she is to succeed as a manager she cannot do so without coaching. And this is why:

5 reasons why managing cannot succeed without coaching

  1. Managing sets goals and demands that you commit to them. Coaching asks what you want to commit to and demands you set goals for it.
  2. Managing asks you to do the tasks that deliver the goal. Coaching invites you to offer the contribution that makes meeting the goal meaningful.
  3. Managing waits and measures what you get done. Coaching supports you to get done what is needed, is valued and is worthy of measurement.
  4. Managing asks you to correct your mishaps and failures. Coaching asks you to own, embrace and learn from them.
  5. Managing defines what contribution is expected. Coaching expects that contributions can exceed what is predefined.

So if you are managing a team to deliver results, you are probably already acting as coach manager. The success of your team depends on your awareness of that and your ability to fulfil both roles effectively. If you are doing that already there will be a coherence that is expressed in what team members share, own and do, that translates into the results they achieve. To others it may seem like you are not actively controlling or directing. To you and those you are managing / coaching you are living the manager's paradox.

You do most when you help others make your own doing matter least.

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