There is no doubt in my mind that managers can coach. Whether managers should coach is a different matter. The dilemma can sometimes be resolved by appointing people with a specific coaching role. Other times it makes more sense for managers to include coaching in their skill set despite the difficulties that this can throw up.
We need to appreciate that sometimes there are tensions when we act as coach and manager to the same group of people. Let’s look at some specific issues:
“I also have a range of other tasks to attend to”
In our role as a manager we have many demands on our time. We probably have to allocate and distribute the team’s work, monitor budgets, keep records and attend to quality control and so on. We can’t do everything so most of us have to prioritize; doing our best to ensure the most important jobs get done first. Unfortunately this can lead to short-termism and constant fire fighting and mean that coaching and training take a back seat. Our internal voice tells us that training and coaching are vital and that we’ll get on with these when we’ve cleared our workload. But tomorrow never comes and our in-trays get filled with more urgent or important stuff and the coaching gets left for another day and so it goes on. The great irony is that this vicious circle can really only ever be broken by investing time in training and coaching the team, so that increasingly they are able to take on more tasks and free us to do more coaching and thus create a virtuous circle instead.
“I might sometimes have to discipline the same people”
This is undoubtedly true and does need to be considered in establishing an effective coaching relationship. As a coach we are primarily concerned with helping others to learn and so we need the people we coach to feel completely comfortable in talking through work related issues with us. An effective coaching relationship is founded on trust. We must trust in our team members to work towards their potential and they must trust that we, as their coaches, will keep confidential anything said during a coaching session.
What we need to do is explain to people that as mangers we wear ‘different hats’ and that when we are coaching we are doing so with the utmost sincerity and that our concern is to work together to identify improvements in performance. Other management processes such as appraisal reviews or disciplinary matters should be handled separately from any coaching sessions so as not to confuse the roles. Coaching works best against a background of high trust and, as this may take time to build, we may have to wait patiently for the coaching sessions to develop to a point where people feel really comfortable in talking about things they’d like to develop. Fortunately, coaching provides a means of generating trust quickly as people soon see that the good coach genuinely wants to help them achieve their potential.
“I might not be able to give them what they want”
Some managers worry that their staff might ‘hijack’ coaching sessions and use them as an excuse to ask for all sorts of expensive or irrelevant training courses or funded education programmes. These same managers fear that by turning such requests down they are seen as being insincere and not really taking their coaching role seriously.
Once again, trust is important here and so is clearly defining the purpose of coaching at the outset. We need to make sure that our team members realize that coaching is about helping them to move forward and exploring ways of achieving this but that coaching does not take place in a vacuum. In other words whilst, as a coach, we will wish to support a person’s development, quite obviously we will need to balance this against a range of other factors such as other team member’s needs, budgets, timescales and so on. We might not be able to grant every request that emerges from a coaching session but this is no reason not to coach in the first place.
“There might be more pressing issues”
In terms of the structure of a coaching session, the most effective coaching happens when the individual sets the agenda as this is in keeping with the notion that coaching should raise awareness and generate responsibility.
However, many mangers are at a loss to know what to do if their own view of what the current performance issues differ from those of the team members. One more we can acknowledge that although this is a possibility, it does not prevent effective coaching. We must accept that we cannot hide behind coaching in the hope that we might avoid having to confront a difficult performance issue. If there is a need to ‘tell it like it is’ or to give someone some pointed feedback then that is what we must do. Furthermore we should do so openly and honestly and not pretend that what we are doing is delivering a coaching session for the other person’s benefit.
It is important that we understand these factors as we consider the role of the manager as coach. My experience suggests that all of these problems can be overcome; none present and real barrier to coaching.