A manager is not necessarily a coach. Yet it seems we think they automatically are once they become a boss. Just like being promoted to a management position does not mean someone is necessarily a good manager, expecting a manager to effectively coach their people does not mean they will be successful at it. It also does not mean the people who report to them want to be coached by them.
Of course a manager CAN be a coach to someone who reports to them. But the assumption that once I am your manager I am also your coach is seriously flawed.
I continue to see this assumption at play in organizations of all sizes. It can cause a lot of mischief in the relationships between managers and the people who report to them.
Don’t get me wrong. I am an advocate of managers developing strong coaching skills. Yet when we fail to establish the foundation for a successful coaching relationship, we end up with far more failures than successes and a whole lot of unnecessary frustration and disappointment.
Many years ago I consulted with a Fortune 50 organization that wanted to establish a coaching relationship between managers and their people as the new status quo. They even changed the title of managers to coach. While well intended it was the equivalent of waving a magic wand expecting a new context for relationships and new competencies to manifest. Needless to say it backfired.
Expectations were set without the necessary context setting and skill building to ensure they could be met. Essentially managers were set up to fail as coaches and the people who reported to them were set up to be disappointed. Whether we have officially changed titles today, the advent of coaching as a profession seems to have fueled an unwritten expectation that managers should be coaches, too.
A successful coaching relationship requires mutual trust, respect, and distinct competencies. It also requires that both parties choose to have a coaching relationship. It cannot be created based on expectations resulting from the positioning of boxes on an org chart or without the support necessary for a manager to learn do it competently.
Here are 3 things you can do to increase your chances of being a successful coach as a manager.
As a coach you can only be successful if you are actually committed to the person you are coaching, including the commitments of that person for their future. You may not like everyone who reports to you. You may not truly be committed to their future or believe that they are even capable of achieving the future they want. Consider the possibility that the most productive and honest context for your relationship may be purely about getting the work done. That is not bad and it is not wrong. As a manager you are responsible for the development of your people so the best thing for both of you may be to find someone else to provide coaching in the domains you cannot.
However, that does not mean it is ok to sell out on someone because it is easier to pass them off to someone else. My point is that if you do not authentically choose, you will not serve anyone. Consider that you may need some coaching yourself in this regard. It could be a even be a great opportunity for your own growth.
2. Ask for Permission
Being deemed someone’s boss does not equal permission. Effective coaching requires choice on the part of the person being coached. When I report to someone I am accountable to them. That does not mean I trust them enough or even want them to coach me. In the absence of permission to coach you cannot make a difference as a coach. Permission cannot be assumed, it must be granted consciously.
This does not mean you should not provide guidance and advice, but realize that your ability to affect fundamental change and growth will be limited. A good clue that someone has not given you permission is when they do not listen or take your advice despite how well you think you delivered the message or how hard you tried.
3. Be Responsible for Your Power
The context of the boss-subordinate relationship goes counter to an effective coaching relationship because the boss has the power. One of your roles as a manager is to assess performance. For some people that means they only want to talk to their managers about what they are doing well. A performance gap is not a good thing on a performance review in most companies. This makes it even harder to coach someone who reports to you.
Professional development plans are created separately for this reason. Yet unless there is sufficient trust between the two of you, the development plan may be more of a check the box exercise for you both than a bold stand for realizing potential. In fact, the boldness of their plan may say more about the level of trust in your relationship than it does about their appetite for growth or their awareness of their gaps.
We also need to be conscious of the tendency to assume that someone’s manager and coach should be the same person.
Managers are responsible for developing their people, not for doing all of the development themselves. So a great place to start is to consider if you are the right coach for what is required and/or desired. You may even be the right coach for some things and not others. Determining the right fit requires a conversation and an honest assessment of the relationship, as well as the skills of the manager to provide what is needed.
One final thought…becoming a great coach takes commitment, hard work and time. It is no different than any other skill of management in that regard. Not everyone is committed to doing that work and that is really ok. You can still be a competent manager. I do believe, however, the best managers are also the ones who are great coaches.
What do you think?