How to Be a Great Manager

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of “The Un-Bossy Boss: 12 Powerful Questions to Make You a Great Manager” by Gary Magenta.

To be a Great Manager, you need to be an effective coach with the ability to ask Powerful Questions, listen actively, offer observations. You must help your employees create the shifts in their beliefs and actions that will result in the achievement of desired results. Coaching is a partnership between the coach and the employee, where the main goal is to help the employee develop and contribute to the business.

The first step in great coaching is to understand that all people have their own judgments, opinions, or views. All these assessments—good or bad, difficult or easy, fair or unfair, possible or impossible, wrong or right—are subjective and are determined by the person doing the observing. Our observations are based on our own experience and how we listen, view, and interpret a situation. Things are never exactly the way one person or another views them. One person may think fast food is unappealing, while another sees it as their guilty pleasure. As a Great Manager and coach, your job will be to understand the view of all your employees.

A Philosophy of Coaching

Great Managers have the ability to drive uncommonly successful results for their organization by coaching their people. Coaching is based on the premise that, with help, people can ignite their own potential and achieve or even accelerate their results by discovering solutions for themselves. Coaches help people identify their individual aspirations for change, desired results, and solutions, and then match those goals with the needs of the business. A coach doesn’t just dole out advice or act as an expert. Great Managers and coaches know that, although employees may outwardly agree with their leaders’ conclusions, they ultimately will take action based on their own beliefs. Therefore, a Great Manager is a partner of employees and teams, helping them to come to their own conclusions, take action, and reach their potential.

If you’re new to the philosophy of coaching, you may need to make a shift from telling, giving advice, and providing answers to asking Powerful Questions that allow your people to discover solutions for themselves. As you do this, remember that your employees also will need to make the same shifts. Some may still ask for advice and answers to their dilemmas. When you are coaching an employee—even if you believe you have the best ideas—don’t just give answers or advice. Ask questions to help your employees reach their own conclusions.

At the start, this shift may prove challenging for everyone. When taking on this new managing method, share your approach with your team. Describe how you’d like to involve them and what you expect of them. They make look at you quizzically; explain your role as a partner and coach who will help them discover answers. Show them how this will benefit them, the team, and the business. Be sure they know that this partnership will work only with their full participation.

The Guiding Principles of Coaching

With the philosophy of coaching established, you’ll need some guiding principles to use as your roadmap to becoming a Great Manager—your foundation for coaching. These principles apply to almost any business results you hope to achieve. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself using them in your personal life, too!

  • Establish the right time to talk. You can’t coach an employee if the time isn’t right. Always ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” Employees may have the time, but also may have other things on their minds that will keep them from fully participating at a given moment. The right conversation at the wrong time always becomes the wrong conversation. As a Great Manager, you may be anxious or excited about wanting to talk to an employee. By making sure the time is right, you’ll help ensure the conversation is effective and productive.
  • Ask Powerful Questions. Asking—rather than telling—offers employees the opportunity to think independently and discover their own solutions. Asking Powerful Questions is the first step in finding out what is most important to people. They are also the questions that help your employees effectively challenge themselves and generate productive ideas and, thus, productive performance. My years of working with managers and teams have shown me that asking questions—and, therefore, engaging employees in a two-way dialogue—is far more effective than simply telling them what to do. The additional benefit is that once your employees start to understand the impact of Powerful Questions, they will learn to ask these questions of themselves, and eventually of others.
  • Look, listen, and follow your intuition. The words employees use are only part of the stories they’re telling. Their gestures, tone of voice, emotions, and even what they are not saying can be equally important. Listen, but also use your intuition to understand the whole story. The information and impressions you gather will lead to more Powerful Questions and greater observations to share with your employees.
  • Check for understanding and clarity. Never presume you understand everything an employee tells you, and don’t rely solely on your intuition. As a Great Manager and coach, check your understanding by summarizing what you heard and sharing your hunches. Ask if your conclusions are correct, and ask for clarification when it’s needed.
  • Offer your observations and create shifts. The ability to help your employees shift their thinking is the difference between merely having a conversation and having a coaching conversation. Creating a shift is the defining moment of any coaching conversation, the clarifying moment when your employee can see possibilities that weren’t apparent just moments earlier. Ask, “May I offer you my observations?” in order to facilitate those shifts. With permission, share key observations—what you observed about their judgments, attitude, speech, and physicality (their body language). These insights often lead to shifts in one or all of these areas.
  • Brainstorm solutions and actions. As a partner on this journey to new management practices with your employee or team, you can help brainstorm solutions based on the new insights. These may include offering your observations, suggestions, and support. If so, remember that any suggestion is just that—an idea or a hint, not an answer or a mandate. The purpose of brainstorming is to help people come to their own conclusions and establish the actions they’ll take. Keep an open mind and stay flexible about what develops as a result of brainstorming solutions.

Excerpt from Chapter 2 of “The Un-Bossy Boss: 12 Powerful Questions to Make You a Great Manager” by Gary Magenta. The book is available on as an eBook or paperback.

Gary Magenta is senior vice president and executive coach at Root Inc., a strategy execution company that helps organizations engage their people as the catalyst and driver for change. Root does this by connecting people with complex strategies using creative and visual methods, transformative insights, and consulting know-how on strategy deployment and sustainment. With more than 20 years of capabilities developed from partnering with the world’s largest businesses, Root has created a proven framework that consistently achieves clarity, ownership, and results. Based in Sylvania, OH, Root has been recognized as a Great Place to Work for nine consecutive years. Visit for more information and follow Root on Twitter: @therootinc.

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