How Should a Manager Manage?
Coaching is all the rage, and for good reason. It is an incredibly powerful tool when wielded in the right hands. Consequently, an increasing number of organizations are nudging their managers to behave more as coaches. Since coaching is linked to increases in employee engagement, business leaders and HR professionals are scrambling to position their management teams as coaches. Those intentions are good, but leaders of talent should note a few considerations.
It is important to fully understand what employee engagement is and what it isn’t.
By the same token, it is critical that managers understand what coaching is and isn’t. Having only a surface grasp on these concepts can lead to poor implementation and leave employees with a feeling of superficiality and incompetence when it comes to their managers.
In short, engagement is less about what employees receive and more about what they give. Coaching is less about giving orders and more about drawing the best thinking out of the individual being coached. Both engagement and coaching are more of a mindset than a model.
Coaching is not always the appropriate tool for a manager.
There are times when a more direct approach is required. These situations might include instances of urgency, immorality, safety or compliance.
Though frequently used interchangeably, mentoring and coaching are not the same thing. Many companies have formal mentoring programs, and they are valuable. But, again, many of these programs are instituted without a firm grasp on the differences between the two. Broadly speaking, mentoring focuses more on relationships and long-term development, whereas coaching is centered on supporting shorter-term performance objectives and goals. This is not a hard and fast rule, but there are nuanced differences between the two, and understanding them helps leaders avoid shallow, short-lived initiatives.
What about consulting and counseling?
Good managers are experts in the arena where they supervise others. They train others, make quality improvement recommendations, measure and evaluate performance against a standard, apply corrective actions, and push toward indicator targets. These competencies fall more in line with consulting than coaching. A good rule of thumb is that consulting is more about the right answers, while coaching is more about the right questions.
Counseling and coaching can sometimes feel the same, due to the use of probing questions to elevate thought, but they are quite different. Counseling often focuses on the past, while coaching is geared toward the future. Formal counseling requires a special license and deals with a person’s inner psyche. A coach hones in on the problem or challenge at hand and helps the person arrive at multiple solutions.
Managers should lean downward more than upward.
Many managers think so much about their next career move that they spend their energies on impressing their bosses. They want to spend time in the upper circles so they are seen as relevant and progressive, and they seek the attention of their own managers in the hopes that when a higher position opens, they will be the natural choice. This behavior is leaning upward.
Leaning downward means the manager invests that same energy and time in his or her own people so that they achieve higher engagement and peak performance. Smart managers know that leaning downward is what will more effectively grab the attention of their bosses.
Coaching means being present, not just accessible.
Managers who pride themselves on having an open-door policy and being easily approachable may be missing the real mark. Being accessible is good, but it requires no action on the part of the manager. Being present is a proactive mindset that requires intentionality on the part of the manager. Interactions that are initiated by the manager and take place outside the manager’s office are where the magic lies.
What kind of manager are you? Ask yourself the following questions:
- Do I push or pull?
- Do I truly care about the members of my team?
- Have I developed a high level of skill in coaching?
- Do I know how to move in and out of the various forms of management as context requires?
- Am I fully aware of how my management is perceived by others?
- Are my employees fully engaged? How do I know?
Patrick Jinks is a certified leadership and strategy coach and president of The Jinks Perspective, which helps organizations clarify, simplify and align their mission work. Patrick is a member of the Forbes Coaches Council and a contributor to Forbes.com.