The Manager-Fixer vs. the Manager-Coach

Lately I’ve been putting in a lot of thought into why more managers don’t use their coaching skills to grow their people. Even though many organizations put their full resources behind manager coaching training, I’ve observed that coaching conversations tend to be the exception in the workplace, not the rule. Why aren’t managers putting their newly learned coaching skills to work, helping to grow their employees?

After the coach training is finished and they are back in the office, managers tend to revert to their previous ways with their employee interactions. Rather than encouraging their people to think things through and come up with their own solutions to problems, managers tend to take charge, providing instructions and advice. This behavior reflects how many managers feel about their jobs. They see themselves as problem-fixers rather than coaches, and their managing style reflects this.

Despite their good intentions, the manager-fixer can create numerous problems in the office:

  1. Quick fixes don’t teach people to think for themselves. When managers explain what needs to be done, an employee might learn something, but it isn’t necessarily retained. Employee engagement tends to be minimal when things are explained AT them.
  2. When work is challenging, employees will look to their manager-fixer for a quick and easy solution. They’re denied any sense of ownership or autonomy. This creates a workplace morale problem, as employees who aren’t fully engaged or empowered tend to have terrible job satisfaction.
  3. Managers who fix every problem encourage employee dependency, thereby creating additional work for themselves. Being the hero who always comes to the rescue may boost your ego, but you’ll become increasingly overwhelmed with work and ultimately create a bottleneck.

The Manager-Coach

Strangely, at most companies, coaching isn’t part of what managers are formally expected to do. Even though research makes it clear that employees and job candidates alike value learning and career development above most other aspects of a job, many managers don’t see it as an important part of their role. ~ Monique Valcour, “You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach” (Harvard Business Review, July 2014)

Managers are busy people. There have a ton of balls in the air at once and time management is very important. Because of this time-crunch, many managers believe they lack the necessary time for coaching conversations. Yet, this is jettisoning one of the most important parts of their job. 70% of employee learning and development happens directly on the job, not through formal training. If line managers are unsupportive and uninvolved with their employees’ development, then skills growth, engagement, and retention will become stunted.

What has your experience been with managers? Do you feel like managers are just there to fix things or should they also coach? I’d love to hear your experiences. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.