New Leaders Series – Part 3: Manager vs Coach Stance

Let’s start with a key assumption: Managers and coaches are different roles.

Blending manager with coach can be a source of frustration and confusion for the people you are seeking to help and support as a new leader. As a leader in an Agile organization, it’s important that you clearly understand the difference between manager and coach and clarify for yourself and others your own embodiment of these different roles in the moment. Consider the different roles:

Manager – focused on ensuring balanced investment – focusing the growth of the individual in service to the growth of the business. The manager provides the necessary one-on-one support and work context necessary to meet the needs of the business.

Coach – focused on providing the framework and growing capabilities of the coached individual by meeting them “where they are at”. A coach provides a one-on-one interaction aimed at skills growth based on what is required and important for the coached individual.

Now, consider the impact of confusing coach and manager stance:

  1. As a manager, your reports may view your “coaching stance” as suggestion rather than direction – in which case, you risk being unclear about expectations.
  2. As a coach, coachees may see your “manager stance” as controlling. Your instructions may not resonate with the coachee and they may not choose to challenge this with you.

The danger here is made worse if you interpret the report / coachee behaviour as a challenge to your role when the truth is that your helpful – but unclear – approach has failed.

The only way that I know to remove ambiguity is to be very clear as to the mode you are engaging in. As a manager, I strive to be very clear when I engage as a coach – quite literally framing my questions and suggestions as “coach”. When I do this, I’m checking-in, inviting feedback, and am very open to reframing the suggestion. When I’m engaging as a manager and being more directive – I aim to be equally direct and transparent – in this case framing as “management \ business expectations”. When I do this, I emphasize clarity of expectations, inviting questions, and am not open to reframing the suggestion.

Ultimately, regardless of role / stance, what’s important is how this is received and heard by the other person. Knowing when to coach and when to manage is the next level of this but not truly possible unless the leader is able first to clarify their own stance in the moment.

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