3 Ways to be a Manager AND a Coach

A manager is not necessarily a coach. Yet it seems we think they automatically are once they become a boss. Just like being promoted to a management position does not mean someone is necessarily a good manager, expecting a manager to effectively coach their people does not mean they will be successful at it. It also does not mean the people who report to them want to be coached by them.

Of course a manager CAN be a coach to someone who reports to them. But the assumption that once I am your manager I am also your coach is seriously flawed.

I continue to see this assumption at play in organizations of all sizes. It can cause a lot of mischief in the relationships between managers and the people who report to them.

Don’t get me wrong. I am an advocate of managers developing strong coaching skills. Yet when we fail to establish the foundation for a successful coaching relationship, we end up with far more failures than successes and a whole lot of unnecessary frustration and disappointment.

Many years ago I consulted with a Fortune 50 organization that wanted to establish a coaching relationship between managers and their people as the new status quo. They even changed the title of managers to coach. While well intended it was the equivalent of waving a magic wand expecting a new context for relationships and new competencies to manifest. Needless to say it backfired.

Expectations were set without the necessary context setting and skill building to ensure they could be met. Essentially managers were set up to fail as coaches and the people who reported to them were set up to be disappointed. Whether we have officially changed titles today, the advent of coaching as a profession seems to have fueled an unwritten expectation that managers should be coaches, too.

A successful coaching relationship requires mutual trust, respect, and distinct competencies. It also requires that both parties choose to have a coaching relationship. It cannot be created based on expectations resulting from the positioning of boxes on an org chart or without the support necessary for a manager to learn do it competently.

Here are 3 things you can do to increase your chances of being a successful coach as a manager.

1. Choose

As a coach you can only be successful if you are actually committed to the person you are coaching, including the commitments of that person for their future. You may not like everyone who reports to you. You may not truly be committed to their future or believe that they are even capable of achieving the future they want. Consider the possibility that the most productive and honest context for your relationship may be purely about getting the work done. That is not bad and it is not wrong. As a manager you are responsible for the development of your people so the best thing for both of you may be to find someone else to provide coaching in the domains you cannot.

However, that does not mean it is ok to sell out on someone because it is easier to pass them off to someone else. My point is that if you do not authentically choose, you will not serve anyone. Consider that you may need some coaching yourself in this regard. It could be a even be a great opportunity for your own growth.

2. Ask for Permission

Being deemed someone’s boss does not equal permission. Effective coaching requires choice on the part of the person being coached. When I report to someone I am accountable to them. That does not mean I trust them enough or even want them to coach me. In the absence of permission to coach you cannot make a difference as a coach. Permission cannot be assumed, it must be granted consciously.

This does not mean you should not provide guidance and advice, but realize that your ability to affect fundamental change and growth will be limited. A good clue that someone has not given you permission is when they do not listen or take your advice despite how well you think you delivered the message or how hard you tried.

3. Be Responsible for Your Power

The context of the boss-subordinate relationship goes counter to an effective coaching relationship because the boss has the power. One of your roles as a manager is to assess performance. For some people that means they only want to talk to their managers about what they are doing well. A performance gap is not a good thing on a performance review in most companies. This makes it even harder to coach someone who reports to you.

Professional development plans are created separately for this reason. Yet unless there is sufficient trust between the two of you, the development plan may be more of a check the box exercise for you both than a bold stand for realizing potential. In fact, the boldness of their plan may say more about the level of trust in your relationship than it does about their appetite for growth or their awareness of their gaps.

We also need to be conscious of the tendency to assume that someone’s manager and coach should be the same person.

Managers are responsible for developing their people, not for doing all of the development themselves. So a great place to start is to consider if you are the right coach for what is required and/or desired. You may even be the right coach for some things and not others. Determining the right fit requires a conversation and an honest assessment of the relationship, as well as the skills of the manager to provide what is needed.

One final thought…becoming a great coach takes commitment, hard work and time. It is no different than any other skill of management in that regard. Not everyone is committed to doing that work and that is really ok. You can still be a competent manager. I do believe, however, the best managers are also the ones who are great coaches.

What do you think?


Enter A Comment

Mike Henry   |   29 May 2009   |   Reply

Thanks for a great post. As usual you’ve thought through things pretty well. I appreciate the comment that the manager should consider if they’re the right coach for what is required or desired.

In some respects EVERY manager is a coach to each of their direct reports in one way: job performance. Don’t you agree? The manager may delegate the coaching, but in my view, the manager’s success should be equal to properly functioning team member’s success. Therefore, they should commit to the success of their people. They then would make developing that individual to be a great team member their top priority. The only possible excuse would be too many direct reports, and then the manager should develop a leader and promote someone. Don’t you think every boss has some responsibility to be fully committed to their direct report’s success and also be qualified to teach the skill of being a successful member of the team? If they can’t commit to their own team member’s success or if they can’t coach them to be a successful team member they need leadership training from Susan. 😉


Susan Mazza   |   04 June 2009   |   Reply

I posted the question “Can you be both someone’s manager and their coach? on Twitter on June 2nd and got these responses…many of them came via @lollydaskal. Thanks Lolly! (for those who do not use twitter each comment starts with the twitter handle of the commenter- if you want to learn more about them there is a profile for each on twitter)

@wholeself in my experience the 2 don’t go together. It is a cop out by mgmt to keep costs down & a missed op 4 gd coaching.

@MichaelRayD @Barb_Calabrese Only if you know when to switch hats ..and you’ve taught them to recoginize the difference.

@Glenn_SC I found it better. I felt more open 2 my coach than my manager.Growth is faster.

@TheCEOCoach: Absolutely can be done, but not every manager should be doing coaching of their directs.

@ritamoore well developed manger approaches their employees as a coach w/the mindset of helping every1 succeed.

@Catvamp sure most good managers do both and successfully, empathy is the wand to any great wizard

Gwyn Teatro   |   29 May 2009   |   Reply

Hi Susan. This is another thought-provoking post.

It reminds me how we tend to get on “band wagons” without having any idea where the wagon is going.

I think you’ve talked to something that probably happens all the time. Managers are quite suddenly dubbed “coaches” and then expected to want to do it and to know how to do it well. As you say, this kind of approach sets people up for failure and devalues the benefits and potential for good coaching to make a real difference to the organization and the individuals who are part of it.

You have described a true coaching relationship, where coach and client choose each other. In a manager/direct report relationship, the element of choice is usually missing unless the manager has also hand-picked all his/her direct reports.

To be honest, I’m not sure how practical it is to have the manager choose some people to coach and find other coaches for the people s/he has less affiliation for. I could be dead wrong but somehow that kind of programme could have the potential for a challenge with favoritism.

Having said that, it seems to me that coaching is part of the overall job of leadership, just as management is. From this perspective I think managers who are more skilled as providing solutions than asking questions; are less prone to ask permission; and use the balance of power inappropriately; should have the opportunity for some coaching training before they are dropped into the fray and re-labeled.

Great topic Susan!

Steve Finikiotis   |   03 June 2009   |   Reply

Hi Susan

Another informative and nicely crafted post. Managers can easily overstep their bounds by attempting to coach their reports resulting in unintended consequences. I think many organizations would benefit from understanding that both roles are necessary but that they draw upon complimentary skill sets.

I agree with Gwyn about the importance of providing coaching training to managers before they are thrust into dual roles.

And, I think Jann and I both need to get some gravitars!


Joe Williams   |   02 June 2009   |   Reply

For me there is a clear distinction between the roles of a manager and a coach, since each is working towards a different goal. With a manager, the shared goal is the results from an assignment or task. With a coach, the shared goal is the development of the person being coached. In an ideal situation, a manager is charged with the development of his/her employees, in which case the acquisition and development of coaching skills in the manager are a necessity.

lawrence berezin   |   30 June 2009   |   Reply


I can’t thank you enough for your thoughtful, and helpful response. You hit the multiple nails on their respective heads. Your analysis played a significant role in my decision to coach and manage my son. It’s something we both want to pursue.

Jann Freed   |   03 June 2009   |   Reply

Are you familiar with this book: Presence-Based Coaching: Cultivating Self-Generative Leaders Through Mind, Body, and Heart (Hardcover)
by Doug Silsbee

I thought it had some great concepts that are consistent with mindful leadership. Jann

Jann Freed   |   03 June 2009   |   Reply

What do I have to do to have my photo pop up along with my comments? Thanks

Lisa Hickey   |   26 June 2009   |   Reply

Hi Jann,
To get your picture to display on blogs, go to http://www.gravatar.com, sign up and post your picture there. (It takes 5 minutes). Wordpress blogs (as well as many others) are “gravatar-enabled” and your photo should start showing up on those blogs automatically. Good luck!

Juergen B   |   04 June 2009   |   Reply

Thanks as always, Susan, for starting such an interesting exchange!

Q: Is it possible to better define the scope of a coaching relationship between managers and employees?

Because I agree with Joe Williams, Gwyn Teatro, Mike Henry and yourself that, while “coaching” seems a core management competency expected from good leaders, still certain aspects of coaching can run counter to the role of a manager, or even the goals of the organization.

It would seem that authentic coaching could potentially advise the coachee against corporate interests; for example I know of instances where proper coaching caused the employee to actually leave his job, and that could be hard to reconcile with the role of a manager…

So can one define an agreement that allows one to have an authentic coaching relationship within the confines of a job, without potential conflict of interest?

Susan Mazza   |   29 June 2009   |   Reply

Great question Juergen. Here is where my thinking about that has led me so far…

When you are coaching someone you are never telling them what they should do or even guiding them in the direction you think they should go. So if someone chooses to leave the company and that decision emerged from their conversations with you I don’t think that is a conflict of interest. In the end the “coachee” is 100% responsible for their choices.

When my dad had people working for him that he knew were unhappy (especially if he wanted to keep them) he would suggest they see what else is out there so they could get clearer about what they wanted. Essentially he was helping them to choose. Is that coaching? Is that a conflict of interest? He said it worked every time – whether they left or not the right conversations happened as a result and there was no sneaking around or manipulation involved.

I do think it is important to be clear about in which domains it is appropriate to coach someone some that are not. Although it seems to me that the decision has to be based on the situation (i.e, the topic or objective of the coaching, the relationship, and the skills and knowledge of the coach given the topic. So I don’t think there is a”one size tis all” scope.

What do you think?

lawrence berezin   |   09 June 2009   |   Reply


Great stuff here and packed full of value for me. I am involved in a business project where my son and a very close friend are involved in the business. I placed my son on the sales team, and he reports directly to the VP of Sales. My close friend reports to me in my role as leading the day to day operations of the business.

My son is a terrific athlete. I made a decision early on never to “coach” him in athletics. He hears my voice every day as his Dad. I choose to continue my role as the Dad, and thought it wouldn’t be a good idea to add a second role as the”athletic” coach. He disagreed.

I’m not sure whether to be his “coach” in business; since he’s part of the sales team and is not a direct report to me. Or, leave it to other members of our organization. Any thoughts would be helpful.

I read with interest your description of a manager’s potential responsibility as a coach; a manager’s responsibility for the development of a direct report. What is the difference in the skill set for both of these roles? Almost seems like a conflict of interest, or apparent conflict of interest to assume both roles with someone who you manage. How will your other reports react to this apparent favorite son/daughter relationship?

I really enjoy your posts. Thanks.

Susan Mazza   |   29 June 2009   |   Reply

In answer to your question what is the difference in the skill set for both of these roles (manager vs. coach)? I have tried to simplify this and realized it is actually more appropriate to answer in another blog post so stay tuned – will let you know when it is up.

Re: whether or not being someone’s coach AND manager is a conflict of interest: This often has to do with two things (assuming both parties have chosen): the purpose of the coaching and the level of trust. A good rule of thumb is that if you are even remotely concerned about a conflict of interest you should at least consider other options. Real or perceived, a conflict of interest will affect your effectiveness as a coach. If trust isn’t sufficient for the topic at hand, permission won’t be granted (even if they say they want your coaching you’ll likely experience resistance and/or discomfort if the trust isn’t there.)

In answer to your other question, does it make sense for you to coach your son? My response: if he wants you to coach him and you have the expertise to do so it can absolutely work. I have seen it work first hand in another company. Although I understand your concern about the appearance of favoritism being heightened with a parent/child relationship. Yet the results your son produces with your support are still his results – he is the player here. Where I think you can avoid mischief is by being squeaky clean when it comes to make sure there is no special treatment. He must be held accountable to the same standards are everyone else, no special treatment in terms of compensation, etc.. In some ways I actually think it is harder to be the bosses son. Whether you are coaching him or not there is always the risk of perceived favoritism.

That is my 2 cents anyway! I invite my other readers to weigh on this, too, especially if they have a different point of view.