Become a Better Manager-Coach

May 6, 2021

Become a Better Manager-Coach

Manager-coaching happens during one-on-one meetings with your direct reports where the focus is on their development. It creates opportunities for you to support them in their progress on a regular basis, make goals clear, remove obstacles, help them tap into resources, provide recognition and encouragement, guide them to find meaning in their work, and support their success and well-being. 

Manager-coaching, at its best, consists of having regular conversations getting to know each of your team members as individuals: better understanding their skills, signature strengths, goals, core values and individual motivations; and helping them apply that learning to meet the organizational needs and team goals. When done well, manager-coaching builds trust and strong working relationships, and it allows you to tap into each of your employee’s expertise and creativity, which is essential when your team is facing the more complex challenges of today’s work environment. Manager-coaching also gives you an opportunity to show you care about your people as more than interchangeable parts to get work done. 

Manager-coaches are different from the traditional model of directive managers. Manager-coaches hold people accountable while facilitating their growth and understanding. Directive managers, on the other hand, operate through authority and personal expertise. The two styles are different in the ways listed here:

Directive Managers Manager-Coaches
Tell people how to do things, operate through authority and personal expertise. Sets goals and outcome expectations while letting employees drive how to get there, encourages autonomy.
Focus primarily on weaknesses and ways to be more well-rounded. Focus primarily on strengths and ways to better utilize and improve those strengths.
Try to fix all the problems. Use collaborative problem-solving methods; provides opportunities through which employees can learn and decide how to move forward; connect the employees with other people who can help them.
Stay task oriented and focused on getting the work done as the only goal. Stay development oriented; knowing and acknowledge employees’ career goals and personal values; help employees find meaning within the tasks, while also getting the work done.
Focus on solutions. Focus on employees.
Oversee employees’ work. Supports employees’ work.


To be effective, engagement efforts must be individualized; there is no one-size-fits-all program. A true one-on-one environment allows you as a manager to engage each team member with the strategies that best fit each one. Some people may be more interested in applying their strengths or finding meaning through their values; others might be more motivated by recognition or connection with their colleagues; and some might be hijacked by their stress or strong negative emotions. Coaching provides the venue to apply many of the tools from those other strategies. The previous strategies were designed so that beyond initiation, the success of a strategy did not rely solely on you. But coaching falls squarely on your shoulders; it can’t be delegated. 

One of the biggest themes I hear from managers resistant to coaching is that there is simply not enough time. The only way to tap into the value of coaching is to spend the time needed to get to know your employees: their goals, strengths, values and ways of thinking. There is no shortcut to good coaching besides regular one-on-one meetings. When done well, coaching can save you time by: 

  • Empowering employees: Empowered employees can bring potential problems forward earlier, preventing bigger time-consuming headaches in the long run. 
  • Reducing distractions: When your employees know they will have regular meetings with you, they will often hold their small questions until those meetings, rather than seeking you out immediately. 
  • Sharing leadership: When you know your employees’ signature strengths, values, and development goals, you will likely find more opportunities to share leadership for tasks that don’t fit your own strengths, values, or goals. 

The most effective styles of coaching don’t take as much time as you might expect. The Gartner Group led research from over 7,000 employees across industries that concluded, “There is very little correlation between total time spent coaching and employee performance.” It matters less whether managers spend 36 or 9 percent of their time coaching. What matters is their coaching style: 

  • The most effective style of manager-coaching is the connector-manager style, which increases employee performance by 26 percent and triples the likelihood of that employee being a high performer. These manager-coaches create a positive environment, provide targeted feedback in their areas of expertise, focus on building quality relationships rather than providing high quantities of feedback, and connect employees to others for development when the managers lack expertise in a given area. 
  • The least effective style is the always-on manager-coach, which degrades performance by 8 percent. These coaches are constantly looking for ways to coach their employees, take personal responsibility for teaching all the skills necessary, and regularly give in-the-moment feedback. This “helicopter-parenting” model of manager-coaching doesn’t give room for the employees to experiment and learn on their own, to tap their own strengths and best ways for them to accomplish tasks, or to find help from others who may have more direct or recent experience.
The Authors: 

Eric Karpinski is author of Put Happiness to Work: 7 Strategies to Elevate Engagement for Optimal Performance.