Managing change

Managing change

Managing change: Coach them, don’t boss them

Consultant believes managers can achieve better results by acting ‘coach-like’ with their employees


September 15, 2007

When Susanne Biro coaches people on how to enhance their job performance, she poses this challenge: “What would happen if you really took your foot off the brake?”

Rather than judging, or telling them what to do, Ms. Biro asks them to do their own analysis of what’s holding them back, and what they need to do to achieve their full potential.

Often, however, managers assume that coaching involves focusing on the shortcomings of employees, or directing them on how to improve, says Ms. Biro, a Vancouver-based management consultant and co-author of a new book on coaching.

“As a coach, it is imperative that you see your role not as a judge of others’ performance, but, rather, as an advocate for their potential,” she and co-author Gregg Thompson write in Unleashed! Expecting Greatness and Other Secrets of Coaching for Exceptional Performance, which is aimed at teaching managers to be effective coaches.

But it’s not easy, says Ms. Biro, director of coaching at Bluepoint Leadership Development Inc. “As a leader, there are times when I am going to need to direct and advise … this is part of what I need to do as a leader.”

However, the manager who acts “coach-like” in his or her day-to-day dealings with employees will get a more enthusiastic buy-in – even in situations where there is no time to debate the merits of an executive decision – than the autocratic manager who is always issuing orders, Ms. Biro argues.

Executive recruiters and leadership development experts say coaching skills are an essential quality that they look for in candidates for promotion.

“If you’re looking at CEO talent, that capacity is really pretty central, along with results orientation and strategic orientation,” says executive recruiter Tom Long, a Toronto-based partner with Egon Zehnder International.

Vaughan Campbell, director of organizational leadership and development research at the Conference Board of Canada, says employees expect and deserve the opportunity to develop to their full potential.

Managers who spend most of their time telling staff what to do – and not enough time asking what support they need from management to build on their strengths – will lose credibility, and staff, in the long run, he says.

Employees will bolt, not for the extra $2,000 a year, but because “the boss is an idiot,” Mr. Campbell says.

The best managers are able to balance their employees’ needs for coaching with their organizations’ needs for results, adds Asaf Zohar, an associate professor of business administration at Trent University.

“Good managers are always able to manage the long term versus the short term, the personal holistic development versus the immediate need for short-term results: The client wants it now, the competitor is jumping on it now,” he says.

Coaching is not a skill that can be easily taught, but rather one that has to be honed and developed on the job, he says.

Managers who take business school courses to improve their leadership skills might well “get it” in the classroom, Prof. Zohar says. “But then they show up at the office and, with that first deadline, that all that goes out the window.”

Ms. Biro says managers who have developed a capacity to coach have an easier time achieving results because their employees have been given the tools to perform better.

To read the remainder of the article, including 24 great coaching questions – click here.