John Bennett/ February 20, 2023/ Development, Executive Coaching

7 Principles of Manager-Coaches

Managers and leaders at all levels are a key ally on the personal and professional development frontlines for their team members. They play a crucial role in individual [and team] development towards mastery by providing feedback and coaching. Manager-coaches are persons to whom others report and who use coaching skills with individuals and teams who report to them.

Definitions of manager-coach coalesce around the thought that the role of a manager-coach is to empower employees, help improve individual and team performance, develop employees to increase their ability to achieve career goals, improve work quality, and retain top performers within organizations (Joo, Sushko, & McLean, 2012).

Traditionally, managers have been defined as telling, judging, controlling, and directing, and coaches as empowering, helping, developing, supporting, and removing obstacles. Coaching as a management function involves a non-directive, humanistic, motivating, and empowering approach to fostering achievement of personal and professional development in alignment with organizational priorities. Coaching involves helping the-person-being-coached to identify their goals, discover possible actions, and create a plan of action, and being accountable for the results. It involves increased self-awareness and learning to evolve as an individual, team member, and contributor to the success of others and the organization.

To achieve a level of mastery, the manager-coach can effectively and efficiently apply the mindset and skills of coaching with a high level of proficiency consistently, improvise, when necessary, reflect on their own performance in order to continuously improve, and support others in their development of the mindset and skills.

Here are 7 principles to guide manager-coaches to effectively support others in their growth, development, and performance through the application of a coaching mindset and skills:

Principle 1: Create a Safe and Brave Space

Manager-coaches are responsible to create a safe environment in which the person or team being coached can share, take risks, experiment, and learn. To accomplish this, the coach-manager needs to be trusted. The manager needs to accept what is shared without prejudgment and bias, while encouraging the team members to be vulnerable.

Principle 2: Focus on the Team Member’s Agenda

Manager-coaches may be tempted to impose an agenda on the team member being coached; however, a key tenant of coaching is that the focus of the work is set by the person-being-coached—not by the coach. This makes the coaching self-directed and coach guided. As the manager of the team member being coached, the coach may have suggestions or preferences which can be shared to inform the selection of the most important and impactful goals for coaching. The manager-coach should assist in the team members selection and articulation of the desired outcomes for coaching in general and for each coaching conversation.

Principle 3: Facilitate and Collaborate

As an experienced professional, the manager-coach may have deep and rich expertise in the work of the team member. This wisdom should serve to inform the coach, but not be used to impose their views on the team member. Managers who coach develop the skills to partner with team members to guide them through their own discovery, experimentation, learning, and performance. As Alison King wrote in 1993, the teacher (in this case, the coach) should be a guide on the side, not a stage on the stage. This means that the manager-coach should be selective about being directive and use a more facilitative approach.

Principle 4: Promote Mastery Through Self-awareness

The goal of any manager should be to foster development of others toward mastery. Mastery includes the ability to skillfully execute, reflect and learn from experiences, improvise-as-needed, demonstrate agility, function interdependently, and support the development of others. This requires both reflection and feedback. As a manager who is coaching, the manager-coach has a front-row seat to observe and offer feedback, which should support an existing goal for the team member or provide new awareness that can lead to new opportunities for coaching, development, and application.

Principle 5: Balance Personal Development and Organizational Priorities

Manager-coaches may find themselves working with team members whose personal priorities do not align with the organization’s goals. This places the manager-coach in a potentially awkward position of trying to support competing priorities. As a manager, the goal is to support the organization’s needs while helping team members align to those priorities and their development as an asset to the organization. This may require the manager-coach to clarify with the team member the responsibilities to the organization they have as a manager. And, using their coaching skills, the manager-coach can facilitate the team member to discover alignment or misalignment as well as a path forward.

Principle 6: Promote Learning and Growth from Experiences

Past experiences can provide worthwhile opportunities for learning. Manager-coaches are encouraged to help team members think about experiences from the perspectives of what worked well, what could have been changed to improve the situation, what role could they have played to foster a better outcome, etc. This process of reflecting on experiences can help develop awareness. In addition, it can help the team member develop the ability to reflect, as events are occurring to make necessary adjustments and gain additional insights for future applications. Finally, this reflective process in coaching helps sustain learning and create a feedback loop for continued developmental learning.

Principle 7: Model What You Coach

Manager-coaches have a responsibility to demonstrate [to the best of their ability] the leadership and job-skills that the team member is trying to develop. This role modeling—including vulnerability, experimentation, learning, and even working with a coach themselves—not only builds trust and confidence, but serves to teach others through their examples. With feedback as a key component of the effective team-member/manager-coach relationship, the manager should regularly seek feedback and use it to improve their performance and should regularly provide feedback to others.

Developing and applying coaching skills requires learning, practice, feedback, and reflection. These seven principles provide a foundation for managers to apply coaching to help team members improve performance, develop capabilities, and transition in their roles, careers and life.

As always, I’m interested in your thoughts and ideas so do leave your comments, feedback, and suggestions below.

Photo by RODNAE Productions


© 2023, John L. Bennett. All Rights Reserved.

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