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Have you ever experienced the wonder of a boss who let you bring value to the table in your own way without interference and yet was always surprisingly there when you needed her support?
This manager was in essence, what in the professional coaching world is called a Coach Manager.
In May of 2001, a coaching project for the senior management team at Manpower Canada (Canada’s largest staffing company) tracked performance of its employees after 6 months of Coach Management training and the results were stellar: Teamwork, Leadership and Customer Service performance were rated by the employees themselves at 100% improvement levels while Productivity, Innovation and Effectiveness were reported at an equally resounding 95%. Clearly, something about this approach works well.
What is a Coach Manager?
The shift from being just a manager to being a Coach Manager is akin to the difference between being a consultant and a professional coach. One tells his client what worked for him in the past and what to do next based on his own experiences. A coach on the other hand, is trained to bring the solution out of the person being coached.
Similarly, a manager is trained to tell her staff what the goals are and how to achieve them. Conversely, a Coach Manager assists her team in clarifying what the goals are for them and how this contributes to the overall company goal. Then she supports her staff in identifying and overcoming barriers to achieve results.
It is the distinction of ‘asking’ instead of ‘telling’, ‘listening’ instead of ‘talking’. It is a very powerful tool that transforms companies and people everyday.
Getting the right people on the bus
In Jim Collins’ best-selling book, “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap … And Others Don’t” he talks about the fact that great companies at some point or other got the right people on their company’s roster (bus) and let go of those who didn’t naturally want to contribute all they had to give or those who simply weren’t suited to be on that specific bus.
The right people he adds are motivated by the act of contributing and aren’t driven by compensation or rewards.
The trick is to get the right people on board even before you decide on the direction the bus is going to go. As a Coach Manager, your first priority is to decide whether you, yourself are on the right bus or the right seat. Then you need to take a good hard look at your team and make the difficult decisions about them, which is the first step to building a great team.
Building a safe environment
The relationship between a boss and his employee doesn’t always feel safe and accepting to either party. A Coach Manager puts aside his ego (what he thinks is the right thing to do/say) and suspends judgment in the relationship (no more “I can’t believe she would do that!”).
Sound like a hard task? Trust is the foundation of any relationship. And most Coach Managers have found that building trust is well worth the rewards reaped in the end.
After all, how effective would a Coach Manager be if he berated an employee and in the same breath asked to co-operatively figure out how to fix the problem at hand?
Listening to the ‘layers’
My teacher, a Master Certified Coach (the highest designation in the world of coaching, of which there are only 621 of in the world today) is able to listen to someone for only a minute before being able to drill down to the true issue. Surprisingly, this issue is never what we first thought it was.
One thing a Coach Manager learns is to listen so effectively that she doesn’t only hear what’s being said but more importantly, she begins to hear what isn’t being said (ie. The layers).
The Fine Art of Questioning
Questioning is one of the first things that Coach Managers are trained to do. Questions can be powerful tools if used correctly, but they can also be turned into lethal weapons if used incorrectly. A Coach Manager uses questions to first clarify the objectives at hand and then to get to the bottom of what’s holding his direct reports back from getting to those results.
On the other hand, closed ended, leading, grilling and bullying questions drive an insurmountable wedge between the manager and his team. As a Coach Manager, take the time to think about great, open ended ‘laser’ questions such as:

  • What do you make of x?
  •  What is the most important thing here?
  •  What is holding you back from x?
  •  What will be the evidence that you’ve gotten x?
  •  Where do you go from here?
  •  How can I support you in this?

Keeping them Accountable
One of the biggest differences between a manager and a Coach Manager is surrounding the approach to accountability. The Coach Manager meets periodically with his team members and follows up judiciously and systematically on the previous tasks the employee himself committed to. If tasks are not completed, more laser questions are used to determine why and to formulate a strategy together to get the desired results. Married firmly to the accountability process is the ‘safety’ aspect of the relationship between the Coach Manager and his team. No boss can ever let go of the non-judgmental stance of a true coach if he’s made the decision that he will be a good Coach Manager.
Acknowledging & Celebrating
Ken Blanchard’s book “Whale Done” suggests that employees only hear from their bosses when there’s a problem or if they’ve made a mistake. Instead, he implores managers to “catch them (their employees) doing something right”. Coach Managers also know the value of acknowledging completed tasks and well performed jobs that lead to good results. Whether in words or actions, Coach Managers celebrate wins ever day. They “see” their team members for the accomplishments that they achieve rather than for those they fail to.
The Barriers to becoming a Coach Manager
The largest barrier to the shift from being a manager to becoming a Coach Manager in organizations is one of changing beliefs around what the definition of a boss means.
For decades, managers have been paid to provide the solutions and to direct their teams to success. To turn things on their head and ask the staff to come up with solutions and be accountable for their own results, takes some getting used to.
That is why leading edge companies make sure to professionally train their staff down to all levels of the organization to foster a Coach Manager culture. Like any change, it will take time and commitment.
If the rewards of an engaged and fulfilled staff who consistently deliver higher productivity aren’t an incentive to make the shift, I’m not sure what else might be.
Unbeknownst to most managers, each year more corporations are training their staff to become such Coach Managers. Some of these forward thinking companies are IBM, Scotiabank, Abbott Labs, Sysco Canada, Bell Canada and Campbell Company of Canada, to name a few. Most of these companies have won performance awards amongst their peers or in their industries. It doesn’t even seem to matter if the Coach Management culture is started in one division or embraced by the whole company. It all seems to improve things, no matter what the model.
What do you and your companies stand to gain if you become a Coach Manager yourself?
With kindness as always,
Chala

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