Some time in the ‘90s coaching became a hot topic for improving performance at work. When told they should be doing more coaching many managers responded with, “I am already coaching! I tell my people what to do all day long!” Here are a few common beliefs managers and leaders hold about coaching that might explain this response.
“I coach all day long.”
“I tell my people what to do every day! Isn’t that coaching?” These managers confuse coaching with giving direction or advice, which is telling their people what to do. While advice can be valuable, it’s often not the kind of coaching people need.
“I’m a manager, not a therapist!”
Coaching is not therapy. While the intent of therapy is healing an injury or wound, the intent of coaching is getting breakthroughs and alignment.
“Coaching is only needed to correct a performance issue.”
While coaching certainly can help an employee who is under performing, it can also help a high performer break through a challenging issue that has them stuck.
“Coaching is what managers do when they don’t want the responsibility of supervision.”
A good coach does not abdicate the responsibility of getting results through the work of others. On the contrary, they help others achieve their goals.
“My people are highly skilled and credentialed. They don’t need a coach.”
Chris Argyris spent many years studying learning organizations. One discovery that surprised him was that highly skilled professionals become closed to learning when their own performance is an issue. They often blame other factors, become defensive, or feel embarrassed. All these reactions get in the way of learning and performance improvement. In these cases coaching could be very valuable in opening them up to learning.
What these and other beliefs actually reveal is a misunderstanding many managers struggle with: they don’t really know what coaching is and how it is different from managing.
Managing is controlling, monitoring, or organizing. It involves a telling, directive, and authoritative style best used in situations that require immediate action and outcomes. It assumes that employees need advice, guidance, or knowledge they don’t already have in order to be successful.
But more often than not, people already have the knowledge they need. It’s not the manager’s job to add more knowledge, direction, or advice. Instead, it’s the manager’s job to help people access the knowledge they already have. That is the true meaning of coaching and it’s the key to follow through and breakthrough results.