5 Steps to Shift from Managing to Coaching

Managers today must become more like coaches to lead and motivate their teams effectively.

The most powerful and effective training program you can provide for any employee is to connect them with someone who cares about and collaborates with them on their development. But making that happen requires one big shift—turning their manager into a coach.

A study by the Workforce Institute revealed that managers have the same level of impact on someone’s mental health as their significant other and an even bigger impact than their doctor or therapist (26). And less than one in five people feel that their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work (27). Making progress in building a close connection with an employee requires an ongoing conversation, not just an occasional evaluation. And that won’t happen unless the manager understands their job isn’t to manage; it’s to be a coach.

Making the shift from a manager mindset to that of a coach creates one thing more than anything—trust. This comes from taking a personal interest in people and showing that you genuinely care. A company can shower people with endless benefits, but it is useless if someone doesn’t feel connected with their manager.

Be a Coach

The track record of managing, teaching, or even coaching with an authority figure approach isn’t excellent, and it’s becoming increasingly ineffective and problematic. The power imbalance creates a distance between managers and those who work for them. In contrast, a coaching-based approach to managing is positive and collaborative, where a coach views the people on their team as working with them, not for them.

Managers must become more like coaches to lead and motivate their teams effectively. Today’s workforce is more diverse and dynamic than ever and less inclined to respond positively to top-down decision-making and strict hierarchies. They are looking for leaders who can connect with them on a personal level, provide guidance and support, and empower them.

Coaching is a more flexible and adaptable management style. A coach listens actively, provides constructive feedback, and helps their team members develop their own solutions to problems. This type of approach fosters trust, collaboration, and continuous learning, which are all essential for driving innovation and growth. They help their team members navigate through difficult times and adapt to new challenges, developing resilience and adaptability. This helps managers keep their teams engaged, motivated, and productive.

Five Steps to Shift from Managing to Coaching

Here are five steps you can take to shift the mindset of your company from managing to coaching:

1. Provide Guidance, not Direction: A coach provides personal support and guidance to each team member, helping them identify and overcome their unique challenges and achieve their goals. This is more effective than a manager who may have a one-size-fits-all approach. New managers struggle with this concept, especially when they have been promoted to managing their peers. They tend to fall into the trap of thinking everyone now needs to follow their playbook and take an approach of leading by example. This is why elite athletes often struggle as coaches as they take a “do what I do” approach. It is critical to help coach managers that they need to provide guidance versus dictate direction.

2. Focus on Superpower Skills: Traditional managers tend to focus narrowly on the hard skills required for the specific role that an individual is in right now. In contrast, a coach extends their focus also to help that person build more effective soft skills, such as communication and collaboration, which are essential for working together with others and growing their career. They help identify those critical soft skills, coach individuals in real-time situations, reflect on specific examples, and provide tools and training to help them develop skills over time. But calling them “soft” skills implies they aren’t hard to acquire and lack substance. Nothing could be further from the truth. They come up in every performance review. A slight shift to calling them superpower skills more accurately reflects how these skills can help you professionally. Hard skills are the foundational skills required to do your job. But it’s your superpower skills, formerly known as soft skills, that give you the ability to level up in your job and over your career significantly.

3. Encourage Self-Awareness and Personal Growth: A coach helps team members understand their strengths and weaknesses and what they need to do to improve and grow. They identify the appropriate training and development opportunities to help someone reach their full potential, which also translates into building a more skilled and capable team over time. Managers tend to focus on their own needs over the needs of an individual. Moving past this requires a coaching mindset of helping someone create a plan and then constantly sharing observations to help that person grow personally and professionally over time.

4. Provide Greater Autonomy and Ownership: A coach encourages team members to take ownership of their work, make decisions, and act independently. This can lead to a more engaged, motivated, and productive workforce and provide people the opportunity to develop critical thinking and problem-solving skills. Managers, in contrast, tend to take the lead on solving and resolving the most critical issues, missing out on the chance to help someone develop the skill set to address the problem on their own and learn from the experience. It is important to openly acknowledge and discuss this tendency, as it is the only way to overcome a lack of autonomy and ownership that many people struggle with in most companies.

5. Provide Real-Time Feedback: Imagine a coach who only sits down with players once a year to let them know how they’re doing. Eight out of ten people prefer feedback at the moment.28 Managers need to understand that they aren’t doing their job if they aren’t actively working with people daily to improve their performance and help them grow. A shift in mindset from managing to coaching can drive major change for people individually and your company collectively. However, making this work requires another evolution in how we think—from evaluation to conversation. Without consistent and caring dialogue, coaching is nothing more than a concept.

It’s time to shift from managing to coaching. Nothing will have a bigger impact on the growth and development of the people on your team, both for employees as well as for their manager. Or, better said, for their coaches.

Dan Michelson
Dan Michelson is the CEO of InCommon and the author of "Holy Shift! Moving Your Company Forward to the Future of Work."