Consider the management style that dominates your company. Are your company’s managers hierarchical, dictating instructions without regard for employee input? Or are they adaptive, recognizing the strengths and needs of their team and empowering them to succeed? To cultivate an engaged and productive workforce that’s invested in its work, you and your managers need to shift from a command-and-control approach to that of a coach. In this article, we will explore the surprising benefits of coaching, as well as outline how to encourage a coaching mindset in your managers.
A coaching mindset will help managers empower their teams to work through performance issues, take ownership of their development and find solutions together. As much as we see areas where our teams could improve, evidence suggests we should first look inward at our own leadership style. Get ready to unlock the full potential of your workforce with the transformative power of coaching.
What Is a Manager-Coach?
A manager with a “command-and-control” style will be hierarchical and authoritarian. They will make decisions independently and expect others to follow suit without question. Consequently, behind closed doors their team likely describes them as a micromanager.
On the other hand, a manager who sees themselves as a coach will practice what Herminia Ibarra, professor of organizational behavior at London Business School, and Anne Scoular, associate scholar at the University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School, call situational coaching.
Situational coaches recognize that each team member has unique strengths and needs. They adjust their management style to equip employees with the confidence to solve problems and make decisions. When employees bring a challenge to them, these managers start by listening to their team — not just nodding along but actively listening. They ask open-ended questions and give their team autonomy to take ownership of the best solution.
The Benefits of Managers Who Take Coaching Seriously
What impact do these kinds of coaching managers have on their companies? Unsurprisingly, studies link a coaching management style to above-average performance, engagement and employee retention. Let’s look at three areas where the research reveals coaching to have the greatest impact.
Coaching-oriented managers are more effective at developing their employees’ skills. A differentiating trait of coaching managers is that they expect their team to have valuable, tacit knowledge, and they draw on it. These coaches offer accountability to their teams, and in return, the teams feel empowered.
A study by Salesforce confirms this. Their “Impact of Equality and Values Driven Business Report” found that “employees who feel their voice is heard at work are nearly five times (4.6x) more likely to feel empowered to perform their best work.”
Additionally, the Harvard Business Review confirms that empowered employees have “stronger job performance, job satisfaction and commitment to the organization.”
Strong coaching cultures have both higher employee engagement and retention rates. When all managers lean into coaching as a management style, companies can expect benefits across the entire employee life cycle.
Gartner, a management consulting company, demonstrated in a study that employees with leaders who coach them are “40% more engaged, exhibit 38% more discretionary effort and are 20% more likely to stay at their organizations than those who report to ineffective coaches.”
Teams perform better when they have managers who act as coaches.
A study by the Human Capital Institute and the International Coach Federation found that companies that take a coaching-first approach to management outperform their competitors. The study revealed that 46% of companies reported higher revenue than competitors without strong coaching cultures at work. Additionally, 61% reported higher employee engagement levels.
How to Make Coaching Your Default Management Style
It’s hard to ignore the benefits of coaching. It has positive impacts across the board. Whether you lead sales teams, back-office departments or bobtail delivery drivers, you can adopt a coaching approach. But it takes some getting used to.
1. Recognize that coaching may not come naturally.
The first step in becoming a coaching manager is to acknowledge that it might not come naturally to you.
Ibarra and Scoular reference a study of 3,800 leaders that compared perceptions of the leaders’ coaching skills. As you might expect, 24% of “the executives significantly overestimated their coaching abilities, rating themselves as above average while colleagues ranked them in the bottom third of the group.”
If you think you’re a coaching-first manager, think again. Coaching may not be your default management style; that’s OK. It’s safe to assume there’s more to learn. You can start experimenting with coaching best practices.
2. Understand & leverage coaching tools & techniques.
Coaching is a hot topic. There are innumerable studies revealing its benefits. For that reason, there are also many coaching tools and techniques to help you grow into an effective coach.
For example, effective managers that practice active listening, open-ended questions and goal setting all help their employees develop their skills and achieve their goals.
Julia Milner, professor in leadership at EDHEC Business School in France, and Trenton Milner, general manager of the International Centre for Leadership Coaching, compiled the following nine leadership coaching skills from existing literature:
- Giving feedback
- Assisting with goal setting
- Showing empathy
- Letting the employee arrive at their own solution
- Recognizing and pointing out strengths
- Providing structure
- Encouraging a solution-focused approach
Although we know from the previous section that we’re not the best judges of our own skill levels, consider yourself. Which of the aforementioned skills comes most naturally to you? Which are the most challenging?
The Milners found that “listening” came most naturally to participants, whereas “recognizing and pointing out strengths” and “letting the employee arrive at their own solution” was less so. With the nine essential skills plainly laid out, how can you develop them in yourself? As with most things in life, it will take practice.
3. Practice, practice, practice.
The key to making coaching your default management style is to practice regularly. Make coaching a part of your daily routine and look for opportunities to coach your team in real time.
For example, take an afternoon to shadow a bobtail delivery driver. Understand the challenges and opportunities they face. See firsthand the physical demands of the job, the challenges of navigating roadways and the interactions with customers. In doing so, you’ll better understand the realities of their work and provide more meaningful support and feedback.
Another example could be joining the sales team on calls to understand customer concerns. Observe how the sales team interacts with customers, ask questions about their concerns and needs, and provide feedback if appropriate. This approach will lead to more effective coaching on how to build strong relationships with customers and increase sales.
Ibarra and Scoular point out that “when you notice your managers growing increasingly inquisitive, asking good questions, and working from the premise that they don’t have all the answers — you’ll know you’re on the right track.”
Don’t expect to be perfect on day one. Instead, follow the advice of John Maxwell, a leadership expert and author, and “fail forward.” The more you practice, the more natural coaching will become and the more effective you will be at helping your employees grow and succeed.