Discovering (or Re-discovering) the Manager-Coach

By Dr. Sheila Boysen, Lesley Page and Mike Cherry

“You know that everyone is supposed to be a coach rather than a manager these days. You know something else, too: most of the managers you talk to are acting pretty much the way they always have.”

Constantine von Hoffman

When working with leaders on “coaching skills” we find they are both confused and excited. Excitement is generated, in part, from business insights that trumpet the virtues of the “Manager-Coach.” Confusion sets in when trying to define what the Manager-Coach is and how to practice this approach. Our clients find that exploring leadership styles, practices emphasized by the Manager-Coach and tools for emphasizing development help to rediscover (or discover) the Manager-Coach.

Coaching is One Tool in Our Managerial Toolkit

We often leverage the Situational Leadership Model created by Ken Blanchard and Paul Hersey to demonstrate that relying on one managerial style may be a recipe for disaster. How would you evaluate your fluency with the following managerial styles?

Follower Development Level Appropriate Leadership Style Follower Summary Leader Summary
Low Competence High Commitment DIRECTING Structure, Organize, Teach, Supervise …is for people who lack competence but are enthusiastic and committed. Provides specific direction and closely monitors task accomplishment.
Some to Low Competence Low Commitment COACHING Direct and Support …is for people who have some competence but lack commitment. Continues to direct and closely monitor task accomplishment, but also explains decisions, solicits suggestions, and supports progress.
Moderate to High Competence Variable Commitment SUPPORTING Praise, Listen, Facilitate …is for people who have competence but lack confidence or motivation. Facilitates and supports people’s efforts toward task accomplishment and shares responsibility for decision-making with them.
High Competence High Commitment DELEGATING Turn over responsibility for day-to-day decision-making …is for people who have both competence and commitment. Turns over responsibility for decision-making and problem solving to people.
Adapted from Blanchard, Ken, Zigarmi, Patricia and Zigarmi, Drea. Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership. William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York, 1985.

The effective Manager-Coach moves seamlessly between styles depending on the context or situation.

Specific Manager-Coach Practices Do Exist

When reviewing the research and actions of excellent Manager-Coaches, there are specific characteristics that they consistently exhibit. How well are you implementing these best practices?

Best Practices of the Manager-Coach
Focus on the potential of both employees and the organization (future-focused) Eliminate barriers to success
Set clear expectations Focus on teaching and learning
Focus on business success Deliver honest, specific, and timely feedback
Treat each employee as a unique individual Create SMART goals/objectives
§  Listen and ask questions Model the way/Action Orientation

We have placed emphasis on listening and asking questions because this is difficult for managers. To coach means you must not only advocate your position but also inquire into the thinking and viewpoints of others. Listening is a difficult skill to develop, yet is at the core of coaching.

Focusing on Development is the Core of the Manager-Coach

If we look at several definitions of coaching we find that development or learning is the unifying theme.

“…executive coaching is helping leaders get unstuck from their dilemmas and assisting them to transfer their learning into results for the organization.”

Mary Beth O’Neill

“…the heart of the process is a person’s potential.”


Constantine von Hoffman

“Quite simply, coaches help people become more than they realize they can be.”

James A. Belasco

“ICF defines coaching as partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.”

International Coach Federation

Consistently demonstrating a development perspective is a key characteristic of the Manager-Coach. Using the table below, what are you doing well? Where can you improve?

Establishing a Development Perspective
Competency Always Sometime Never
Do I support employee development opportunities with time and resources?  Do I reward learning?      
Do I provide regular, on-going performance feedback?      
Do I treat mistakes as learning opportunities?      
Do I provide challenging, risky, “stretch” assignments?      
Do I stimulate productive conflict (cognitive conflict)?      
Am I a learning “role-model?”      
Do I provide “sounding board” advice?      
Am I a cheerleader boosting the belief that success is possible?      
Do I hold employees and myself accountable for learning?      
Do I actively create dialogue and discussion?      


True development takes time. When we observe a baby learning to walk we realize the wisdom of the adage, “We must learn to walk before we run.” The same is true for managers developing their coaching skills. This is not an overnight venture. It is a step-by-step process requiring focus, consistency and discipline. However, when done well it leads to extraordinary results for both individuals and organizations.


Blanchard, Ken, Zigarmi, Patricia and Zigarmi, Drea. Leadership and the One Minute Manager: Increasing Effectiveness Through Situational Leadership. William Morrow and Company, Inc. New York, 1985

Drucker, Peter F. The Essential Drucker. HarperCollins Publishers Inc. New York, 2001.

Goldsmith, Marshall, Lyons, Laurence, and Freas, Alyssa editors. Coaching For Leadership: How the World’s Greatest Coaches Help Leaders Learn. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, 2000.

McCall, Jr., Morgan W., Lombardo, Michael M. and Morrison, Ann M. The Lessons of Experience: How Successful Executives Develop on the Job. The Free Press: A Division of Simon & Schuster. New York, 1988.

O’Neill, Mary Beth. Executive Coaching with Backbone and Heart: A Systems Approach to Engaging Leaders with Their Challenges. Jossey-Bass. San Francisco, 2000.

Senge, Peter M. The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization. Currency Doubleday. New York, 1990.

Von Hoffman, Constantine. “Coaching:  Ten Killer Myths.”  Harvard Management Update January 1999. Harvard Business School Publishing.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *