Turning Managers Into Coaches – The Challenges!

As a trainer, turning managers into coaches is a real challenge. We’d probably all like to think that all managers can become coaches – but can they?

There are perhaps three reasons why it is extremely difficult for managers to become coaches:

– Managers are time bound. Results have to be achieved to a certain standard within a certain time. Coaching takes time.

– Managers are performance oriented. They have been charged with getting results. Often the employee’s potential problem to be addressed through coaching, may not seem to relate to improved results.

– Managers often have a personal style that is more directive than consultative. It is thus hard to switch gears from telling and selling to listening and supporting.

1. Manager are time bound.

After training managers with effective coaching skills, I often get the comment “Gee, that takes time. Wouldn’t it be easier to just give them a suggestion of what they should do?”.

Managers need to experience “being coached” and solving a real problem of their own, to be sold on the benefits of spending time coaching. Only training that provides an opportunity for managers to personally experience the benefits of coaching, can sell them on the need to spend time coaching.

2. Managers are performance oriented.

Andrew Mayo’s excellent recent article “Everybody wants to be a coach” addressed the need to link coaching to performance and the organisation’s strategic intent, very well. Andrew made the point that if coaching is to be successful (and linked to achieving performance goals as well as personal development), then it is essential to ensure the manager passes authority for solving the issue to the direct report. Managers can see the logic in this, but can they change their natural behaviour?

Having worked with managers for a number of years who are well intentioned to coach their people, they still find this a difficult concept to grasp in practice. So much so, that often the coaching session becomes a performance counseling session and therefore does not always gain the commitment of the direct report. The payoff however in mastering this challenge, is to see the direct report take real ownership for their development knowing that the manager was the catalyst. It is only when managers grasp this (or they experience it as a direct report themselves), do they see the relevance and importance of such a time consuming activity as coaching.

Of course, there is a related issue here ‘ does the direct report trust the manager as “coach”? If the manager has not previously built a culture of trust within his/ her team, then it becomes increasingly difficult to be seen as a non-biased coach.

3. Personal style.

Does a manager have it? Can it be developed? The final and often most difficult challenge for the manager as coach, is to remain non-directive – merely asking questions, summarising, listening and only giving advice when it is asked for and then only at the appropriate times. For many managers, this is a major challenge as their normal directive style is the polar opposite.

On one leadership development programme I am involved with, I have the opportunity to ask managers to rank their natural style used when problem solving (or handling performance issues) with their people on a continuum ranging from “tell exactly what to do and how to do it” through to “ask questions, listen and paraphrase”. 80% of manager rank themselves toward the directive end of the continuum. This is then confirmed in practice coaching sessions.

I used to run training sessions where the participants did a theory plus self report exercise to discover their style as a coach. Often the understanding of coaching and the application, were quite different. One HR person, who had studied coaching for 12 months, scored fantastically well on the coaching inventory and knew all the theory. However, when it came to practise sessions, her style was directly the opposite. This was not uncommon.

I now have the luxury of working with managers on a two week residential programme where they can see coaching being modelled, understand the theory, experience being coached (on real issues) and practise coaching others. As trainers, we need to look for a variety of learning methods that include modelling, understanding, experience and practice.

Improved performance through effective coaching should be the goal for managers as it does have a real payoff for both the manager and the organisation. At a more basic level, the challenge for us as trainers, is to provide the learning stimulus for the normal manager to change his or her spots.