Line managers have a crucial role to play in people management and development and the ‘line manager as coach’ role is increasingly being advocated as an important part of line managers’ responsibilities, there has been a huge shift in thinking about management and leadership styles of line managers and how they play an important role in getting the best from team members.
Emphasis is now placed on managers developing their teams rather than just ‘telling’ their staff members to get a task done. Every manager is expected to coach – it has become an integral part of their role. According to the CIPD, 71 per cent of employers now use coaching in their organisation.
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Opinion is divided about the extent to which line managers can fulfil the requirements of formal coaching. While coaching skills may be part of a manager’s development ‘toolkit’, it may be inappropriate to expect the deep rapport, level of confidentiality and ‘boundary maintenance’ expected from ‘formal’ coaching relationships. The ‘line manager as coach’ role is better understood as a coaching style of management, integrated within a move from a ‘command and control’ approach to a more participative style of management
The increased demand for line managers to act as coaches can be a real challenge. Even the best managers need support to improve their skills and understanding of what it takes to coach effectively. But what does it mean to be a coach, and can managers really be coaches?
The biggest benefits of coaching come when people discover the answers to problems for themselves, coaching encourages people to think for themselves. This non-directive approach helps them grow their confidence to achieve goals and overcome obstacles. This creates a problem for managers because it is part of their role to tell people what is expected of them, to give direction and to offer advice. “The coaching leader helps employees identify their unique strengths and weaknesses and ties them to personal and career aspirations. A coaching approach guarantees that people know what is expected of them and is a mutual commitment to improve performance” (Manya Arond-Thomas).
Are managing and coaching compatible? When people hold a position of power in a manager/subordinate relationship, there will always be a conflict of interest. Managers have a say in the rewards their staff get and can influence their future prospects in the company. Their staff will rarely, if ever, feel safe enough to open up fully. And that’s one of the principle foundations for a successful coaching relationship.
What are the benefits to the line manager? Coaching can be extremely fulfilling and satisfying for line managers. After all, a key part of the role is to create a team of effective, productive and motivated people and coaching is an effective way to achieve that. As people increase their confidence and grow their skills, they become less dependent on their line manager. The time invested in coaching pays dividends down the line.
The greatest benefit comes from managers using coaching skills on a day-to-day basis; every day there are situations that lend themselves naturally to coaching: Someone asks for advice Instead of giving them the answer, get them to explore various options with you. People often know the answer already or know where to find it, and just need reassurance that they are on the right track.
When something goes wrong, it’s very easy for a manager to wade in and sort it all out but this makes the team even more reliant on him/her to provide the answers. A coaching approach allows the team to work this out for themselves. When they discover the solution, they are more likely to buy into changing the way they do things in the future. Managers often think of coaching as remedial when one of the most powerful ways it can be used is when things go right. Great managers capitalise on success, learn from it and repeat it. Celebrating success is motivating and encourages ‘more of the same’. Coaching questions can be used to uncover the pattern of events that led to achievement. Once people are aware of what they did to make something work well, they produce more of the same.
What do managers need to do to become skilled at coaching? Training for managers is essential and it needs to be practical and real-world. Managers also need to understand how to create a coaching relationship while holding a position of power and, most of all, they need practice to develop their coaching skills.
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Here are the 10 principles that should form the basis of any manager as coach training:
- The purpose of the training is for managers to adopt some simple and effective coaching approaches to management. It is not to turn managers into full-time coaches.
- Most people are promoted to management positions because of their technical ability or subject matter expertise, not for their knowledge of how people function. However, it is important and useful for managers to have an understanding of basic human psychology so that they can understand and get the best from their team members. Coaching provides some basic understanding and principles which can be applied immediately and easily.
- Coaching is not the only answer. It is highly effective in many situations, but managers still need to draw on their existing skills when managing their teams. This includes, at times: telling, mentoring, training and performance managing.
- Coaching tools and techniques give managers additional skills to deal with all members of their team; high performers, un-motivated team members, cynical team members and those lacking confidence.
- Adopting a coaching style of management will enable managers to have a better ability to have difficult conversations and deal better with responses, positive or negative. It will also improve their ability to give feedback, either motivational or developmental.
- Coaching helps build commitment to tasks and goals.
- Listening more and asking better questions encourages employees to think and act for themselves and results in more empowerment, less advice and less micromanagement by the manager – giving the manager more time to do their own work!
- Our basic human needs (to feel significant, capable and likeable) are met by a coaching approach to management, which includes praise and appreciation and a focus on strengths.
- Coaching can be carried out by the water cooler or in the corridor, in person or by phone or skype. It can be a 5-minute conversation or longer. It can be done on a one to one basis or with a team.
- Managers should be totally transparent with their teams about using coaching. If they suddenly behave differently or try to coach covertly, their team members will realise. In fact, by sharing the coaching skills they have learned, the team members will be able to adopt them with one another too.
Vickers, A. “Can managers be coaches?” Training Journal 2009
CIPD Coaching at the sharp end the role of line managers in coaching at work 2009
CIPD Learning and Development Survey, April 2008
Arond-Thomas M. “Resilient Leadership for Challenging Times” Physician Executive July August 2004
Starcevich, Matt M., Ph.D. Survey results from leaders who find time to coach, www.coachingandmentoring.com
Morgan, K. Manager as Coach – a two-headed monster or a fully rounded leader? 2015
For information on how FP Training Ltd can support the development of your managers as coaches, contact us on: 01332 527144 or firstname.lastname@example.org