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.

1. Choose

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?


The most serious mistakes are not being made as a result of wrong answers. The truly dangerous thing is asking the wrong question. –Peter Drucker

Tim Hurson tells a story in his book Think Better that got my attention. He shares that NASA invested millions of dollars developing a zero gravity pen because the pens we had did not work in space. The Soviets, of course, had the same problem. Except their solution was far simpler and much cheaper – use a pencil.

How could such smart people miss something so obvious?

The simple answer is that they asked a different question, hence they solved a different problem. NASA asked “how can we get a pen to write in space?”. The Soviet’s asked “how can we write in space?”. Both questions and the problems they were trying to solve were valid. And both could declare success. After all, they solved their problem.

Yet it is the thinking behind the questions we ask and the problems we choose to solve that I believe merits a closer look.

Consider that this is a clear demonstration of what happens when we focus on solving a problem without first getting clear about what we want and need to accomplish.

NASA asked a questions that led to solving the problem of the pen not writing in space. The Soviets asked a question that essentially focused them on the desired outcome based on the need at hand – to be able to write in space.

Unfortunately at the time it seems like we know exactly what we are trying to accomplish. In fact, it is often so clear in our own minds that we don’t even stop to consider that perhaps we are not asking the question that will put us on the most productive path to accomplish what we need to accomplish in the first place.

Consider that our propensity to focus on problems rather than desired outcomes is a potentially very costly blind spot.

In coaching thousands of people in producing breakthrough results, this is one of the most common blind spots I have encountered. Attempts to intervene are more often than not met with resistance because it feels like it is unnecessarily slowing people down. It seems inefficient. Unfortunately we all too often choose what seems to be efficient in the moment at the expense of our ultimate productivity.

The costs of solving the wrong problem can be enormous as demonstrated in this example. It is neither efficient nor productive.

Why do we fall into this trap?

Tim points out that “Your mind consistently chooses to follow well worn patterns, rather than generate new thoughts, new interpretations or new ways of doing things.” In this example he points out that NASA was grounded in looking for solutions based in high technology so that is the pattern of thinking they automatically defaulted to. This is certainly part of the thinking behind the question they asked.

I also think there is another well worn pattern of thinking at play here: focusing on problems rather outcomes.

We have been trained and rewarded for being great problem solvers. It is a highly useful skill and can be incredibly satisfying. We love to solve problems. We also like to get into action as quickly as possible so we are inherently motivated to identify the problem quickly so we can get right to work.

For the most part we have not been trained in the discipline of outcome based thinking.

For many people, taking the time to step back from a problem and think about what we really want to accomplish can occur as a waste of time, especially when the problem, and even the solution, seem so obvious.

Problem solving usually feels like the right thing to do in the moment which is why there is little motivation to challenge our thinking. Yet without the discipline of what Tim Hurson calls productive or Tenkaizen thinking we limit what is possible. What else might NASA have invented with those same resources if they just used a pencil?

In Think Better, Tim Hurson makes the case for the value of investing in the discipline of productive thinking. He also offers a very effective and accessible model for how to engage in productive thinking. I highly recommend the book.

What I offer here is one simple thing you can do to intervene in the drift of what I call our addiction to problem solving:

Next time you find yourself solving a problem, stop and ask yourself (and your team) these questions:

1. What are we ultimately trying to accomplish in solving this problem?
2. How will we know we have accomplished it?
3. Will solving this problem accomplish that objective or are there other things we need to consider or problems we also need to solve?

You will likely still end up solving a problem, although it may not be the one you originally thought you had. However, you will also increase your chances of asking and answering more productive questions.

What techniques do you use for making sure you are asking and answering the best possible questions?

There is a practice on Twitter called #followfriday. The point is to share about who you are following that you think others might be interested in following as well. It is also an opportunity to appreciate people for their contribution to you. And it was a really great thing. At least it was for a while.

Unfortunately good ideas can be executed badly and/or misused to the point where their purpose gets lost and their value gets diminished. Seth Simonds suggests this is exactly what has happened to #followfriday in his post Out with #FollowFriday and In with Connected Communities.

I agree with him, although I am not ready to abandon it quite yet.

I think if those of us who believe in its original purpose provide some leadership it could once again be a valuable practice that can deliver on its promise to the twitter community. In fact I think some people have continued to operate true to the original intent.

Yet what is most compelling to me is that this is not just a twitter story.

We can learn a lot about leadership and organizational behavior from observing what has been happening here. In fact, I’ll suggest that what has happened with #followfriday is a common phenomenon in communities of all kinds.

All too often programs are initiated in the spirit of doing something meaningful and aspirational, yet degrade to the point of becoming meaningless and even fueling resignation and cynicism. And yes I would call #followfriday a program because, while it is not formally administered in any way, it is a structured approach to accomplishing a goal. The goal here, as I understand it, is to connect and appreciate people.

Programs for acknowledgment and appreciation are particularly common in formally organized communities. Employee of the Month, Sports Awards Events, and Character Counts Certificate Programs are examples. Some work well, even leading to desired and lasting changes in behavior, and some do not.

Just like #followfriday, programs usually start out with noble intentions.

Yet we have all seen at least some of them fail to live up to their initial promise: awards are given that end up being meaningless to the recipients, distrust can be fueled when people believe the “panel” chose their favorites over the people who were really deserving, we have to pinch ourselves just to stay awake at a supposed celebratory event, etc.

Here are three signs a program is failing to deliver on its promise, followed by 3 things we can do about it.


1. We lose sight of why we started the program to begin with.

Our mood when engaging in anything to do with the program does not match the spirit of the program’s intent. Resignation replaces enthusiasm and a sense of doing something that really matters. As a result we go through the motions with little sense of satisfaction.

2. Expectations take the place of authenticity.

We start feeling obligated rather than motivated to participate. And we start making our choices based on our considerations (e.g. will someone feel left out) rather than our commitments (e.g., wanting to acknowledge someone who you really believe stands out).

3. Individuals figure out how to work the system for their own personal gain AND we let them take over.

People start trying out new ways to manipulate the system so they win. We start to behave in ways and/or see behavior that is inconsistent with the original intent. And more often than not we do not say a word. We wait and hope someone else will intervene, or people will see the error of their ways, or we start complaining about “them”. We may just abandon the program altogether or sit on the sidelines hoping it just goes away.


1. We can wake people up. That includes ourselves! Until I read Seth’s post I continued to go along even though something did not seem quite right. I thank him for holding up the mirror so I could wake up to what this was really all about once again.

Waking people up to their commitments is an act of leadership. However, be forewarned that it can initially make them angry because it can feel like you just got hit with a cold bucket of water. But if they are truly committed they will thank you for it later!

2. We can take personal responsibility. That starts with owning our part in the breakdown. I clearly played a part in the degradation of a once fabulous practice called #followfriday. One example is that I got lazy by posting lists of names instead of taking the time to share why I though someone was worth following.

Responsibility is not about beating yourself up though. If you are human you will at least occasionally get caught in the drift. It is what you do once you are awake that really matters because that is when you can choose to do something different (or not).

3 questions to help you get back on track when you have list your way are: 1 – what am I committed to here?, 2 – what could I do?, and 3 – what will I do?

3. We can take action. Do something to put things back on track OR choose to stop. If it is worthwhile take the point of view that success or failure is up to you and take action accordingly. On the other hand, letting something that isn’t working continue on because no one wants to admit it is not working is exhausting for the people involved and potentially damaging to the organization. Choosing to end something or offering an alternative way to accomplish the same goal can be very empowering.

Our willingness to provide leadership to any program can make the difference in whether or not it will succeed. It does not matter whether we are “in charge” or not. Our leadership still matters.


Look around you. Are you part of a program that is not living up to its promise? If so, what are you going to do now?

As for me, I have not given up on #followfriday. As a start I am going to stop just listing names and start making meaningful recommendations once again.

In her post Change and the Credibility Factor, Gwyn Teatro pointed out that a synonym for credibility is trustworthiness. In reading her excellent list of things we can do to earn credibility, I started thinking about this question:

What simple, everyday actions can we take to earn trust?

This is not to say that I think earning a reputation as being trustworthy is a simple endeavor. The conditions for trusting can be very personal and we don’t always make rational assessments when it comes to trusting others.

We also don’t all take the same approach. Some of us grant trust and take it away when someone does not live up to our standards. Others believe trust must be earned. The rest of us fall somewhere in between.

Nonetheless, there are things we can do to give others reason to trust us.

Here are my top 7 recommended ways to develop a reputation for being trustworthy.

1. Be on time: Consider that being consistently late sends a very loud message, not just about your reliability, but about your lack of respect for and commitment to the other people who have to wait for you. If there is a pattern of people showing up late, you do not get a free pass from this one. Showing up consistently on time in an organization that has this costly habit is an opportunity to lead. Why not take advantage of the opportunity?

2. Prepare. We use the excuse of having to go to so many meetings or back to back meetings not only as a reason for being late, but for not preparing adequately. As one of my coaches, Gordon Star, used to say: failing to prepare is preparing to fail. It also wastes peoples’ time, including yours. If you waste my time, how likely am I to trust you with something else that matters to me?

3. Do not gossip: If you have an issue with someone, work it out with them. From what I have seen there is way too much gossip occurring under the guise of venting. What’s the difference? When you vent you actually have a commitment to working things out with the person with whom you have an issue. Venting is one thing you do to prepare to have what could be a difficult conversation. Gossiping is venting without commitment. Besides, what message are you sending to the person you are gossiping to? They may be left wondering if they will be next.

4. Keep confidential conversations confidential: Knowing something others are not supposed to know is a big responsibility. It can also be a bit intoxicating. If you have to mention to someone else that you shouldn’t be telling them this, do you really think that qualifies as keeping a confidence? You may experience a moment of power, but consider whether it is worth the risk to your reputation or to others.

5. Honor your promises. I use the word “honor” instead of “keep” your promises deliberately because no one keeps all of their promises. Stuff happens and we are, after all, human. So this means EITHER do what you said you would do OR tell someone in advance of the due date that you can’t deliver. When you can’t deliver and you tell someone in advance, you can figure out together how to deal with the potential breakdown. That doesn’t count as keeping your promise, but it does honor your commitment and your relationship.

6. Admit when you don’t know something. It is an illusion to think that if we hide what we don’t know we will protect the perception that we are competent. Reality is that the more competent we are the more aware we are of what we don’t know and the more confident we will be that we can find out. Admitting you don’t know something is a sign of strength, not weakness. Also consider that, as a manager, if I know you will admit when you don’t know, I am actually more likely to entrust you with something that may be a stretch for you.

7. Own your mistakes. Admitting your mistakes is a good start because it demonstrates honesty. Want to demonstrate reliability, too? Take full responsibility by dealing with the consequences of your mistakes and taking full advantage of the opportunity to learn.

These all fall into the “simple, but not easy” category for many of us. Yet if you do these things consistently you greatly increase your chances of being trusted with the things that really matter.

What else can we do to increase our trustworthiness in the eyes of others? Please add you ideas so we can all learn from your wisdom and experience.

Fear of losing your job is certainly valid in this economy. But unfortunately that fear often provokes protectionist behavior that is likely to backfire for both employees and their companies.

The kind of behaviors I am referring to are things like: hoarding information or knowledge; shifting the blame for breakdowns to others; keeping your mouth shut hoping you’ll stay out of the line of fire; always agreeing with your boss so you stay on their good side; etc.

The list of things we might do, and perhaps have even done in the past, to protect our jobs is endless.

But will they actually work now?

These kinds of behaviors are certainly nothing new and are not unique to the current economy. However, I believe they are far more risky than ever before.

Why? Because while they MAY strengthen your individual position, consider that they WILL weaken your organization. And if your company goes down, saving your job becomes irrelevant.

The bottom line…your job is only as secure as the future of your company.

What is the Ultimate Job Protection Program?

I say it is being willing to act like a leader whether you are THE leader or not. It is speaking up, stepping up and standing up for the things that matter to the future success of your organization. You don’t have to be THE leader to be a leader in these difficult times.

Here are 5 ways you can start leading to help secure the future of your job by helping to secure the future of your organization.

1. STOP Blaming and START Offering Solutions

Blaming is a drain on precious time and energy. Want to be seen as indispensible? Be the person who always contributes to making things better.

2. STOP Hoarding Information and START Sharing It

Knowledge may be power for an individual, but sharing it powers successful organizations. Lead the way in sharing knowledge and you can be a catalyst for creating value and opportunity.

3. STOP Trying to Do It Alone and START Collaborating

No one person has all the answers. It is time to start find ways to tap the intelligence of your entire organization not just a limited few. Include new people in what seem like old conversations and you will gain fresh perspective. Find ways to engage the people who are less likely to speak up. You may be surprised at how much you learn.

4. STOP Reinforcing the “Status Quo” and START Challenging It

We can unwittingly reinforce the very things that are not working because it is uncomfortable to challenge the way things are done. But if your organization isn’t where it needs to be, chances are the ways things are being done are not working very well.

Remember to challenge the thinking not the person and you will increase the likelihood of both being heard and making a difference.

5. STOP Protecting Your Turf and START Acting Like One Organization

“Us vs Them” relationships are rampant in organizations. They are incredibly costly, too. Time to start acting like you are on the same team.

Assigning a shared (and meaningful) goal for two groups that have historically been at odds with each other is one way to create the opportunity to experience being on one team. This can be a very powerful way to start transforming an “us/Them” relationship into a “we”.

These are just a few examples of what we can do to support the companies we work for in being successful. Consider that if you start focusing your attention on how you can contribute to the success of your company, you will need to pay less attention to securing your job.

What can you do to make a difference in securing the future of where you work today?

If you are interested in learning more about how you can cost effectively increase leadership at all levels in your organization please contact Susan Mazza at susan@randomactsofleadership.com or (772)539-7003.

This morning I read a post by Jenny Flintoft in which she offers a great exercise for reflecting on what our heroes can teach us about our aspirations for ourselves. When doing Jenny’s exercise I immediately put Ada Mazza, my mother-in-law, on my list. Now I know a mother-in-law may seem like a rather unusual choice for a hero, but that would only because you don’t know mine.

Why Are Some Heroes “Hidden”?

If you asked her who the head of the family is she would unequivocally say, Sandy, her husband. He is the oldest living man in a family of Sicilian descent. He has clearly provided so much for the family on many levels so this is not to diminish his role in any way. Yet when we think of heroes, or leaders for that matter, we often think of the person who is out front “leading the charge” or the people with the “highest level” positions of authority.

The people who don’t necessarily show up on our radar are those who choose to stay in the background. Yet they lead and inspire us just the same. We sometimes call them the unsung heroes. I call them “hidden” because you would not see them from a surface level view. They are far too busy making everything else work and, in Ada’s case, everyone else’s life work.

More often that not they do not want to be in the spotlight. Yet they are heroes nonetheless and they provide a tremendous amount of leadership.

An Example of What Our Hidden Heroes Provide?

In Ada’s case she sets the tone for every family gathering and every happening. There is no drama around her, only love and gratitude for what we have. She is the most genuinely and consistently positive person I know. She has a level of energy that defies her years and a brightness of spirit that makes you feel instantly welcomed and known. Perhaps that is because she is truly grateful for every little thing in her life.

For the last 2 years she has been the caregiver to her husband who is now in the last stages of cancer. Every time I am alone with him he remarks on how amazing she is and how lucky he is to have her. She does not waver in her positive attitude and gratitude for every last minute she has and whatever help anyone can offer no matter how small.

At one point the only thing they could do together was watch football games. She went out and got “Football for Dummies” so she could enjoy the games with him. This is just one very small example of the way she thinks and approaches life. She is always at work on how to make the best of every situation and how to make every interaction the best for others. She is even now hard at work on a project to honor Sandy’s father by telling his story as an immigrant to this country.

Do you see that as leadership? I certainly do. She continually sets the example for us all through her words and actions.

Today I want to express my love, admiration and appreciation for Ada, my “hidden” hero. For even just one moment I hope that she can appreciate herself for being the leader that she is in our family.

Who is one of your hidden heroes? I’d love to hear about them. And make sure you tell them, too!

Whether your immediate answer to this question is “I am a great listener”, “I am a terrible listener” or somewhere in between, asking yourself this question can actually help you improve your ability to listen. Why? Because the moment you ask yourself “how well do I listen?” you are aware. With awareness you will naturally begin to observe yourself. And it is only when we are aware enough to observe our behavior and thought process in anything that we can make a choice to do it better.

Yet the ultimate test of how well we listen has nothing to do with us and our experience at all. The true test of effective listening is whether the person who is speaking actually feels heard and valued for what they said. Heard means that we actually got what the person intended to communicate, not what we think we heard them say. Valued is about leaving a speaker feeling like they matter. Great listeners know it is not just about the words. Listening is all about creating relationship.

So if you want to know how well you are doing, try asking the people you are communicating with on a regular basis for feedback. Start by letting people know you want to get better at listening. Here are a few suggested questions to get you started in a feedback conversation:

1. When we talk do you feel like I actually hear and understand what you are saying?
2. What do I do that has you know I am listening and actually heard you? What do I do that leads you to believe I am not really listening?
3. What have you been saying that you don’t think I have been able to hear?

Don’t let these questions limit you though. Create questions of your own. But do take the time to ask questions and listen closely to the answers. Remember that your intent is to learn. There is no need to defend yourself. None of us are perfect at listening. If someone triggers one of your hot buttons you just learned something important about where you can go to work. It also means they trust you enough to tell you like it is which is a really good sign about the strength of your relationship.

Listening fully is one of the greatest gifts we can give to another person. It also happens to improve our relationships and our results! So have fun reaping the rewards of your heightened awareness this week. You never know what you might hear that can make a difference for the future.

So how well do you listen? Let us know what you learn and discover this week.

If you would like support please feel free to post your questions here or send your questions to susan@randomactsofleadership.com.