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Steer Your Career: Why the Best Managers are Coaches too

Jul 16, 2013

Why the Best Managers are Coaches too
By Simon North

Coaching is a relatively new phenomenon in the business world. One of the interesting issues to understand is whether coaching is a profession or a skill. It’s actually quite frightening to see a good coach in action. You wonder, “Could I do that? Gosh, it looks slow and actually it looks hard, even though it’s not always clear to see what they’re doing”. And if we get that far, we might just wonder what would happen if we understood more about coaching. What if you understood about the overriding ethics that underpin the coaching profession and more about the core skills that you could deploy as a manager? Just what might be the pay-off for you and your team?

For those who have tried deploying coaching skills as a manager, there are some really obvious, visible signs that coaching makes a difference in their working day. Where there was a lot of quite manic behaviour, frenetic noise, bluster and a sense of busy fools, there is now more calm and more confidence exuded by the people around you. Your own confidence as a manager increases because you know that your colleagues know what they’re doing and are getting on with it. Importantly, only urgent issues hit you in your normal daily routine. The team understands what the genuinely important and urgent matters are, relative to the more run-of-the-mill activities.

Pace is an under-appreciated concept in business. Our culture and our climate determine the pace at which we tend to work; for good or for ill. Generally, a regular slower pace is better – with accelerated peaks based on need. A fast, frenetic pace all the time is difficult to sustain and can be unhealthy, not least because of the quality of decisions that might be taken in that environment.

We will be exploring how to build and develop your core coaching skills at work in our webinar on Building Coaching Skills at Work – Tuesday 6th August 1-2pm GMT. For all managers and for those who aim to make the most out of their careers, register now to understand how to develop and deploy coaching skills to your advantage.


But how as a manager do we get up to that point; to achieve that pay-off and to lead a team that sounds so righteous? As experienced managers, one of the most critical issues that you will ever learn about in your career will be the coaching skill of contracting. Contracting is the process that allows the colleague that you are coaching to determine the outcome that they desire; in the moment and during the conversation that you are having with them. Now just think about this for a moment as you ponder these questions.

Firstly, try not to think about your own position of status and power, which allows you, as manager, to “control” this colleague’s working life. Think instead about the space that you’re giving this person to think through the outcomes that they believe they want to be held accountable for. Think about that in the context of your next appraisal discussion, when you seek their agreement for the work that you want them to contribute for your and their team. Think about using a similar contracting process when it comes to reviewing what they’ve done in the previous period; whether that be a day, a week, a month, a quarter.

What you are doing here is holding the space for your colleague as they think through what they have agreed with you and what they will do in future relative to what they have actually done. Their level of accountability and responsibility for their action and their contribution to the performance of your team lies with them primarily. For you to then discuss the idea with them is to enable that individual to think about the outcome that they want from the conversation with you. It also enables you to allow them to achieve that outcome rather than to promote your own agenda throughout the discussion. The impact of this behaviour by you can be extraordinary.

Listen Hard

You may well see in front of you someone that you did not appreciate previously. If you listen well, you hear more—and not just on the surface. You will understand the nuance about what is happening in that employee’s life and what you, as their boss, might be able to do to help and support them in the future. And of course you will have a more responsible and responsive colleague. The shift that occurs may well surprise you. You now have someone that has more energy as a result of feeling more in control of their work – their decisions and their actions. Every day.

As managers it is so easy for us to underestimate the power of listening and the power of questioning, relative to the sound of our own voice. If you follow these disciplines—and they are disciplines that you can act out every day of your working life —you will create a sense of real engagement from everyone in your team.

One of the things that will happen if you follow this approach is a greater willingness by everybody to share the objectives that they have within the team. This happens when the objectives have been agreed through a coaching/contracting process. If these processes are undertaken using coaching skills, you will find individual colleagues holding themselves to account—to themselves first and to their team colleagues second and to you, their manager, third. In that space there is no fear. In that space is total support and more likely a sense of good climate and good relationships, one to another.

In that environment, the issues of recognition and reward can also be easier – certainly recognition. If you have regular and effective communications processes, the people you work with will not only see how they’re getting on but will get used to the mutual recognition by colleagues and of colleagues for the inputs into the team‘s success. In a climate of strong relationships, and fair and reasonable management behaviours, the likelihood of getting your rewards decisions right increases also.

Coaching Competencies

To make a start—and if you haven’t done this already – go to the International Coach Federation website (ICF) and look at the 11 core coaching competencies of the ICF. Just reading the headline words will tell you how close you are to the everyday skills of being a coach as a manager. Just committing yourself to undertaking those competencies with greater consciousness will improve your performance, both personally and as a manager, with a pay-off for your team’s effectiveness. The more curious you are about those competencies, the bigger the payoff will be for you and your team. Whilst all of those 11 competencies are key because they all fit together, the contracting competence may be the most significant of all; because it is the one that we have probably least understood until now.

About the Author: Simon North, co-founder of Position Ignition, a leading career consultancy helping people to manage and take control of their careers