There are many different styles and approaches for managers to coach their reports. There is no magic one-size-fits-all formula, because each manager is different and holds a different dynamic with their team. However, in this article, I’d like to show the distinction between two common styles, through presenting a recent story from my own life.

Two Approaches to a Common Problem

Recently, I had my first baby with my husband. As prepared as we thought we were for this new darling person in our lives 24-7, we found out quickly that we were mistaken.

Many days, our newborn cries for 3-4 hours almost inconsolably, despite being well-fed, diaper changed, burped, sung to, temperature checked, etc. etc.

My husband is usually convinced he knows what is wrong with the baby(he usually thinks it’s trapped gas). Without getting into too much unwelcome detail, my husband then proceeds to maneuver the baby into various positions and techniques he reads about online to release the gas.

More often than not, these techniques result in the baby getting even more agitated than he was before(though my husband swears it’s helping! :)).

On the other hand, my approach is slightly different. I tend to have no idea what’s wrong with the baby, though I may have my hypotheses. I try them out: maybe there is too much light in the room, so I darken it. Maybe he’s still hungry, so I feed him some more. When all fails though, I resort to the only thing I know I can do. I just hold him and soothe him, letting him know I’m there for him 100%. I’ll hold him in my arms loosely, however, letting him move around in whatever way he naturally wants to. I don’t “try” anything, but i simply observe him and try to understand what seems to bring him the most comfort.

Often, this freedom with support has a magical way of relaxing his nervous system. Surprisingly many times(though not always), that is all it takes to quell his crying spells and calm him down.

The “Fixing” Style

So what does this have to do with manager coaching? In my work, I find managers can be in a rush to “fix” their direct report or give them a ready answer. This obviously arises from the pressure to get things done quickly. Often, this is the right approach to take.

Take for example if you’re nearing the end of the fiscal quarter. The pressure is on, reports are due, and one of your employees gives you a report that looks completely wrong. You’re juggling a million other things and you need this to get done. What’s the best thing to do?

Hint: the right answer isn’t yelling and cursing 🙂

In this situation, you probably want to give the employee an example template of what you’re looking for and explain as quickly and clearly as possible. Then, you’ll want to get a firm time by which they can get you the corrected report.

As we can see, the fixing style can be useful in certain situations. So, I won’t say my husband is always wrong!

Still, you’ll probably want to have a retrospective with your team and with this employee once this has all passed. The purpose of that should be more exploratory and introspective. To discuss what things went well and what things could have gotten better, and how you can improve for next quarter.

The “Collaborating” Coaching Style

Which brings us to the collaborating coaching style for managers. This is a style that most certainly requires more patience and control. However, in the long run, it can be much more beneficial for both you and your team.

In this coaching style, the manager can simply listen and ask questions that they are curious about. They can take the time to have the employee describe a problem in detail and try to understand the depth of it. After listening, they can try to mirror to their employee what they heard.

The manager can then explore with the employee “How do you think you could change this situation?” “What are some options to get better at ‘x’ skill going forward?” etc.

The majority of the coaching session is then less prescriptive and more exploratory. . They brainstorm ideas and strategies together, and come up with a couple that the employee feels good about pursuing. This also helps the employee become more creative, open-minded, and resourceful. Sounds like a better recipe for success!

Let the Employee Lead the Way

The moral of the story is: our primal needs have not changed much since we were babies! We, as human beings, want support, understanding, and some level of autonomy from others – rather than authority being imposed on us.

The common challenge we all face in the workplace is striking that right balance of urgency and space to learn and grow. The right balance of force feeding the answer vs. letting the employee find the food on their own. As a manager, don’t forget that both must be in balance for the success of your team.

Coaching is about collaborating, and not fixing, a person. It is about helping the client discover their own solution by providing them unconditional security and non-judgment. Definitely, a coach is allowed to have their opinion, but they should also be ready to be totally wrong. Demonstrating this openness and vulnerability is perhaps one of the most difficult things a coach can master. But, it is the surefire way of helping develop a truly effective leader for the modern day.

If you believe in the collaborative manager coaching style and would like to learn more, get in touch for a free initial assessment call!