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The Coaching Manager: The Image of an Inspiring Leader

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When you hear the term Coaching Leadership for the first time, the notion may seem confusing. After all, the status of Leader or Manager traditionally implies a certain seniority. The Manager, who has accumulated several years of professional experience, is entrusted with the responsibility of training the most junior team members. So, from a historical point of view, being a manager is knowing what to do (through experience) and teaching others to do it, all while evaluating the team’s performance. For a long time, managers were placed in a position of control with the aim of supervising and developing the skills of their employees. 

Today, things have changed. Many industries are evolving rapidly, which can be disturbing for Managers and teams alike. It is impossible to have all the answers and, as a result, management is tending to move further and further away from its traditional practices of leadership and control. The approach that is gradually becoming the new norm is that of Coaching Leadership. This article looks at the concept behind this role and ways to make it a reality.

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What is the difference between leading and coaching employees?

The difference between the traditional leadership position and that of the Coaching Leader is primarily a matter of perspective. When managing an employee in the traditional sense of the word, the emphasis is on instruction. The Manager explains to their teams what to do, how to do it, and when the task needs to be completed.

The problem with this directive management approach is that it creates a form of dependency. Your employees will end up systematically turning to you before they do anything, which can result in frustration on either side. Micro-management gradually becomes a feedback loop and employees end up failing to proactively make decisions, which can damage their confidence in their professional abilities.

The Coaching Manager, on the other hand, takes a collaborative and empowering approach, guiding their team members and encouraging them to be more inventive and insightful. Instead of providing knowledge about the required processes, procedures and tasks, the coach asks employees to identify them and direct themselves.

Being a Coaching Manager also means being objectively conscious of yourself, your strengths and your weaknesses. As Sylvie Deffayet, PhD and head of EDHEC’s Leadership Development Chair explains in an interview on transformational leadership,

“One of the key words of today’s leadership is authenticity with the figure of the ‘authentic leader’, which has been widely explored in the academic world. In my view, this authenticity is based on four pillars: the leader’s ability to know their strengths and weaknesses, their ability to demonstrate discernment and objectivity, their transparency in relationships with others, and their inclination to act in accordance with their values and strengths.”

How to Become a Manager Coach: Five Good Practices to Adopt

Like any other behavioural skill, there is no specific formula applicable to each profile or company. However, by practising these simple techniques, you can easily develop your own style to nurture and develop the skills of your team members.

1/ The Coaching Manager Knows Their Employees

The first step in any form of coaching is to know the people you have in front of you. As a Manager Coach, you need to understand the aspirations of your team members, as well as their strengths and the areas they need to improve. This information, combined with your ability to communicate effectively about your goals, will allow you to recruit the right people for the right projects. It will also help you motivate them by showing them how their aspirations can match those of the company.

A survey conducted by Salesforce  and published in Forbes showed that employees who feel listened to are 4.6 times more likely to feel able to do their best. Listening is therefore a key skill of the Manager Coach. Being open to other points of view can also shape your vision and impact the effectiveness of your organisation.

2/ The Coaching Manager is Precise in Their Feedback

A fundamental practice to enable your employees to improve is to give them precise feedback. Your main task as Manager Coach will therefore be to give them kind and constructive feedback on their performance as much as possible, along with information they can leverage to grow.  

To ensure your feedback is constructive, be specific and give examples. Do not hesitate to ask open questions so that the people you are supporting can realise the situation for themselves and thus find practical solutions independently.

The Coaching Leader can benefit greatly from the empathetic Manager figure in this aspect of their practice. Try to avoid your feedback being taken too personally, and do not frame your comments negatively. This moment of sharing must be focused on learning, not criticism.

3/ The Coaching Manager does not Lead, but Empowers

Do not assign your employees tasks that only have one correct method. Instead, let your team members express their creativity before guiding them. The Manager Coach gives their employees freedom to fail and thus learn from their mistakes. After all, learning from your mistakes is much more effective in the long term than being guided in all your tasks!

The most difficult thing about empowering employees is that this effort takes time. Your role? Be patient and do not make the mistake of reverting to micro-management: you need to learn to let go so that your teams can grow and become independent.

4/ Keep in Mind that Each Employee is Unique

Not all members of your team will necessarily be open to direct feedback or even feel comfortable seeking help when necessary. As Manager Coach, you need to understand your employees beyond what you can see. Your mission is to find the most effective ways to raise awareness and transmit your messages in an impactful way.

Do not lose sight of the potential effect that your coaching could have on your team, even if it isn’t always easy in the beginning! A good, consistent exercise from time to time is to observe your team’s reactions to your speech and body language. This will allow you to gradually build a more efficient and productive approach.

5/ Security and Kindness are Pillars of Communication

Can you listen to your employees in a non-judgmental way, no matter what ideas they have? The impulse to give your opinion and to correct and change things can be very strong in professional exchanges, which is perfectly understandable, but an important element to be aware of is that the only thing that criticism generates is defensiveness. Even more importantly, it does not create a work environment in which your employees will display confidence.

Nevertheless, this sense of security is exactly what your teams need to formulate new ideas. The Coaching Leader must therefore offer this environment to their teams. If they do not, the consequences can be cumbersome: a team in which doubt and mistrust reign can negatively impact the productivity of the entire organisation. In order to avoid this situation, it is often necessary to bring in an external viewpoint to show more objectivity.

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Coaching Leadership

Taking inspiration from coaching methods allows us to create a dynamic in which people are at the heart of management, as well as a work environment in which your employees will feel encouraged to be more independent. And all this without necessarily questioning the organisation of your company! More interestingly, this proactive posture boosts innovation, creativity and collaboration.

However, the position of the Coaching Manager also has its limitations. In practice, it can sometimes even disrupt the mode of operation of the Manager who tries it. After all, it is difficult to listen and help while demonstrating authority when necessary. The strongest opposition to this practice often comes from the Manager themself: it is easy to become impatient and fall back into your micro-management mistakes.

How Can I Facilitate the Transition? By understanding that management through coaching is not altruism, but simply a more effective way to mentor your team. In order to respond to these new issues, the Coaching Manager can greatly benefit from… coaching!  Their collaborators’ feedback will also help them to construct a style of their own.

Managing employees is a necessary part of the company’s management chain. Breaking this chain does not cause anarchy or bankruptcy, but rather greater freedom for the Coaching Leader and greater employee empowerment. Coaching is therefore a key quality to become an impactful leader.