What Holds Managers Back from Coaching: Part I

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about why so many managers don’t intentionally coach their employees. Based on the data, there’s a multitude of upsides for an organization when they have managers who are genuinely interested in developing and coaching their people. And yet, despite organizations investing a lot of money into Coaching Skills training for managers, there aren’t actually many managers who are initiating coaching conversations with their people. From what I’ve observed in my work, I’ve identified some of the misconceptions and barriers that keep them from incorporating coaching into their managing style.

According to John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett in The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow (McGraw-Hill Education, 2010), managers usually cite a lack of time as the main excuse for failing to coach employees. There can be an element of truth to this, managers are busy people, but the truth is that their real reasons may be quite different.

Misconceptions of What Coaching Is

Some managers are not clear what they’re supposed to do when they coach. When in a conversation with an employee, they just don’t know how to enter into a coaching conversation. Skilled managers initiate coaching conversations so their people will have the chance to explore what they do and how they do it. Coaching expands employee awareness, uncovers better solutions, and allows employees to make and implement sound decisions.

Coaching provides a safe platform for growth. Successful managers consciously choose growth as a priority outcome. They understand that developing their people and their abilities is just as important as getting things done.

Let’s identify what coaching isn’t. Coaching isn’t instructing, mentoring, counseling, cheerleading, therapy, or directing, although there can some similarities. Coaching skills include:

  • Clarifying an interaction’s outcome and agreeing to a conversation’s goal
  • Listening to what is—and isn’t—said
  • Asking non-leading questions to expand awareness
  • Exploring possibilities, consequences, actions, and decisions
  • Eliciting a desired future state
  • Establishing goals and expectations, including stretch goals
  • Providing support
  • Following up on progress
  • Setting accountability agreements

As a manager, you’re tasked with bringing out the best in your people, including high performance and bottom-line results. When you take up the coaching baton, performance goals must also share the stage with employee growth and development. When in a coaching conversation, managers must be non-directive, listen intently, and ask the right questions. Coach training emphasizes supporting people, with an eye toward challenging them.

Many managers struggle to find the balance between giving direction and supporting development. They are, in fact, so unclear about it that they default almost entirely to giving direction at the expense of supporting the employee’s development. Because they are afraid of making mistakes when coaching, they revert to telling employees what to do instead of coaching them.

Does that happen where you work? Have you ever had a boss who defaults to giving direction rather than giving support? I’d love to hear your experiences. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.