Even More on Why Managers Don’t Use Coaching Skills

Even though most managers get trained in coaching skills, the majority aren’t having coaching conversations that expand awareness, thinking and capability in the people they lead. Why don’t more managers coach?

According to John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett in The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow (McGraw-Hill Education, 2010), three common barriers stand in the way:

  1. Misconceptions of what coaching is
  2. A desire to avoid difficult conversations
  3. No clear game plan for initiating and framing coaching conversations

I discussed the first reason, misconceptions of coaching in my previous post here. Let’s discuss the next barriers.

A Desire to Avoid Difficult Conversations

Coaching conversations require time and energy, but they’re the only way to gain trust, honesty and transparency. If you’re unwilling to invest the required time and effort, coaching will inevitably fail. Both parties must be committed to creating a positive relationship.

Managers must be fully present during coaching conversations, which means turning off phones and email alerts during sessions. Keep any promises you make, and be sure to emphasize that you’ll maintain confidentiality.

No Game Plan for Coaching Conversations

Even after training, many managers have trouble initiating coaching conversations, let alone developing a process that expedites desired results.

Many models exist, but the best are short, simple and easy to employ whenever coaching opportunities arise. Coaching needn’t be scheduled as 50-minute sessions. With a solid framework, you can achieve results in as little as 10 minutes.

There are many models to follow, most with easy-to-remember frameworks such as the GROW model, the FUEL model, and the FACTS system. There is no shortage of books and experts who claim their system works best. The key is to learn a process and stick to it so that coaching conversations become natural and productive.

All coaching models proceed from setting the stage, defining desired outcomes, exploring alternatives and barriers, deciding an action plan and setting milestones for feedback and accountability.

Coaching works best when the relationship is grounded in trust and respect, and it can’t work without that foundation. It proceeds with the coach asking the powerful questions and requires deep listening. No matter which coach training model is used, attention to the relationship is foundational.

In the next post I’ll provide some effective frameworks for having coaching conversations that work. Until then, I’d love to hear from you. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

Why Managers Don’t use Coaching Skills

In spite of a lot of coach skills training for managers, not many are actually initiating coaching conversations with people. There are some misconceptions and barriers that stop them, from what I’ve observed in my work.

According to John H. Zenger and Kathleen Stinnett in The Extraordinary Coach: How the Best Leaders Help Others Grow (McGraw-Hill Education, 2010), managers usually cite lack of time as the main excuse for failing to coach employees, but the real reasons may be different.

Misconceptions of What Coaching Is

Some managers are not clear what they’re supposed to do when they coach. Skilled managers initiate coaching conversations so their people can explore what they do and how they do it. Coaching expands employee awareness, uncovers better solutions, and allows employees to make and implement sound decisions.

Coaching provides a safe platform for growth. Successful managers consciously choose growth as a priority outcome. They understand that developing people is as important as getting things done.

Coaching isn’t instructing, mentoring, counseling, cheerleading, therapy or directing, although there are some similarities. Coaching skills include:

  • Clarifying an interaction’s outcome and agreeing to a conversation’s goal
  • Listening to what is—and isn’t—said
  • Asking non-leading questions to expand awareness
  • Exploring possibilities, consequences, actions and decisions
  • Eliciting a desired future state
  • Establishing goals and expectations, including stretch goals
  • Providing support
  • Following up on progress
  • Setting accountability agreements

Managers must be non-directive, listen intently and ask the right questions. Coach training emphasizes supporting people, with an eye toward challenging them.

As a manager, you’re tasked with bringing out the best in people, including high performance and bottom-line results. When you take up the coaching baton, performance goals must share the stage with employee growth and development.

Many managers struggle to balance direction and support. They’re usually afraid of making mistakes, so they revert to telling employees what to do instead of coaching them.

Does that happen where you work? I’d love to hear your experiences. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.

The Manager-Fixer vs. the Manager-Coach

I’ve been thinking about why more managers don’t use coaching skills to grow their people. While most have had coach training, I’ve observed that coaching conversations are the exception not the rule.

After coach training, once back in the office, managers revert to instructions, advice-giving, and explaining instead of asking questions to encourage people to think things through. Many managers are great problem-fixers instead of coaches.

Despite good intentions, the manager-fixer creates numerous problems:

  1. Quick fixes don’t teach people to think for themselves. When managers explain what needs to be done, some learning may occur, but it isn’t necessarily retained. Employee engagement is minimal.
  2. When work is challenging, employees will look to their managers for a quick and easy fix. They’re denied any sense of ownership or autonomy. When people aren’t fully engaged or empowered, their job satisfaction significantly decreases.
  3. This leads to a third problem: Managers who fix problems encourage dependency, thereby creating additional work for themselves. Being the hero who comes to the rescue may boost your ego, but you’ll become increasingly overwhelmed with work and ultimately create a bottleneck.

The Manager-Coach

Strangely, at most companies, coaching isn’t part of what managers are formally expected to do. Even though research makes it clear that employees and job candidates alike value learning and career development above most other aspects of a job, many managers don’t see it as an important part of their role.

~ Monique Valcour, “You Can’t Be a Great Manager If You’re Not a Good Coach” (Harvard Business Review, July 2014)

Many managers believe they lack the necessary time for coaching conversations. Yet, 70% of employee learning and development happens on the job, not through formal training. If line managers are unsupportive or uninvolved, employee growth, engagement and retention are stunted.

What happens where you work? Are managers there to fix things or to coach? I’d love to hear your experiences. I can be reached here and on LinkedIn.