Why Managers Need to be Coaches Now More Than Ever

We often get the question- what’s the difference between a manager and a coach?  And should there really be one? 

To put it simply, being a manager is a directive role.  As a manager, you oversee the work of your employees and are more focused on yourself delegating tasks and determining direction.  Management is procedural, administrative, and holds employees accountable for deadlines and metrics, which are all important facets of running a successful team. 

A coach, on the other hand, is much more collaborative and employee-focused. In a coaching relationship, coaches use open-ended questions and behavioral technology like the E3 assessment to uncover the employee’s strength and growth areas. Through open and honest conversations, they work together with the employee to set goals and come up with an action plan that has the personal and professional development of the employee at the heart. 

The Case for Coaching

So why is coaching so critical to today’s workforce? In the pandemic world we’re still living in, employers have quickly had to develop heightened levels of empathy and effective communication, with some being more successful than others. Employees have contracted COVID, been near someone who has or, worst case scenario, have lost someone they love in the middle of their workday– and managers have been the ones on the front lines having to navigate these shifts in psyche everyday. Before, being a leader may have meant that you only needed a certain level of technical expertise and commanding presence but now we’re finding that employees need more than that. In fact, according to a survey by Zety, “What Makes a Good Manager,” 65% of 1,016 Americans believe a great manager should care about them on a personal level — And the larger the company, the more important it is for managers to care about employees on a personal level. Now more than ever, leaders are being called to show that they care about their employees through genuine connection and growth opportunities, and there is an obvious business case for doing so. Research has shown that helping others achieve their potential increases their productivity, engagement and motivation, which ultimately positively impacts the bottom line. Not to mention, Gartner’s 2020 ReimagineHR Employee Survey found that employers that support employees with their life experience see a tangible increase (more than 20%) in the number of employees reporting better mental and physical health which has become a crucial aspect of productivity and employee well-being.

What Employees Need

Often, managers get caught up in thinking about all of the things that they need their employee do for them instead of thinking about what their employees actually need from them. In a recent article about COVID-19 and the workplace, Gallup meta-analytics recently found four universal needs that followers have of leaders:

  • Trust
  • Compassion
  • Stability
  • Hope

These all seem like pretty straight forward, fundamental human needs right? And still, managers spend their time crunching numbers from their desk, barking orders and not stopping to ask Carol how her daughter is doing, which can have a profound impact on employee trust and morale. How can you be more open, vulnerable and compassionate around your employees while still being viewed as a strong leader?  

Additionally, as we found in last week’s post, employees simply want to spend more time on the things that make them happy. How can you foster conversations that focus on the things that make people happy and get them excited to take on their next new project? We have some ideas. 

How Managers Can Become Coaches

Going from a manager to a coach can seem like a daunting task at first, and most managers aren’t chomping at the bit to have vulnerable conversations with employees. However, like any new skill, with a little bit of practice and tools that can help facilitate discussions you’ll be well on your way to jumping in and helping others. 

Here are a few of the best practices for facilitating a coaching session:

Leading with Empathy

As you enter into a coaching session, empathy can be one of the most important tools in your toolbox.

What is Empathy? According to the Greater Good research center at Berkeley,  “Emotion researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling.” It’s a common misconception that empathy and sympathy are one in the same- Sympathy involves more of a passive connection, while empathy generally involves a much more active attempt to understand another person.

Dr. Brené Brown is a research professor and best-selling author that has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, shame and empathy. Take a moment to watch this TED Talk titled, “The Power of Vulnerability

Mindful Listening

Coaching is a partnership and requires a positive emotional bond. A very important way to cultivate that bond is by listening.

Of all our communication skills, listening is one of the most important ones—and is often the most neglected.  We all know what listening is, but have we ever considered what it really means and takes to mindfully listen? Mindfulness is simply defined as awareness;  It is the practice of paying attention and embracing the present moment. Mindful listening, then, is about being fully present when interacting with others rather than thinking about your to-do list, what you’re going to do over the weekend or replying to emails while you’re on the phone with your mom. 
Instead of just going on auto pilot and giving into distraction, mindful listening requires us to understand what the other person is actually saying. Often a person tells us something and before they even finish their thought we’ve made assumptions about it and filed it away, disregarding any attention to detail. However, if we’re able to truly pay attention to them in the present moment, we will be able to connect with them in a deeper, more meaningful way. 
Frances Hesselbein, a former CEO of the Girl Scouts and author of, “My Life in Leadership,” describes the impact of listening and leadership when she wrote:

“Listening is an art. When people are speaking, they require our undivided attention. We focus on them; we listen very carefully. We listen to the spoken words and the unspoken messages. This means looking directly at the person, eyes connected; we forget we have a watch, just focusing for that moment on that person. It’s called respect, it’s called appreciation – and it’s called leadership.”

Asking Effective Questions

The most effective way to connect with others is by asking questions. Questions are a critical piece of any conversation and there is an easy way to use them to build better conversations and depth while communicating within a coaching session.

There are two types of questions that are important to know in order to keep your conversations going and build more rapport with others in conversation. They are Open-Ended Questions and Closed-Ended Questions.

Open-Ended Questions

These are questions that are structured to draw information from people. They cannot be answered. “yes, no, or maybe.” By definition, they are broad and require more than one or two-word responses. Open-ended questions can help develop trust and are perceived as less threatening as they allow for an unrestrained or free response.


  • What behavior do you think you can modify that would make the most difference in your life right now? 
  • Are you committed to making this change now?
  • Who would be most affected by this change?
  • What do you think the possible outcomes might be for your relationships?
  • When do you think you could start to practice?
  • How can I support you in making this change? 

Close-Ended Questions 

These are questions that can be answered finitely by either “YES” or “NO.” Closed-ended questions can include presuming, probing, or leading questions. By definition, these questions are restrictive and can be answered in a few words. They can also generate incomplete responses, will require more time, can be leading, and produce a feeling of irritation. They can also be perceived as threatening to the student and result in misleading assumptions/conclusions about the information you are inquiring about. These questions typically discourage disclosure.

However, in some instances these types of questions can be helpful to achieve the following:

  • To focus the employee’s response: “Are you satisfied with your progress?”
  • To confirm what the person has said: “So, your challenge is scheduling your time?”

When asking questions, it’s important to: 

  • Ask what behavior they can and want to change to give them personal ownership over the positive change. 
  • Avoid Prescribing a behavior that you think they should modify. 
  • Avoid saying you’re going to ‘fix’ a behavior that they have that you dislike
  • Focus on their observable behaviors
  • Focus on their strengths
  • Focus on what’s important to them, and not what’s important to you. It’s all about THEM.
  • Make them feel good about themselves for having the courage to grow.

Keeping the Tone Positive

Our bodies can often expose more than we are aware of with regards to our motives, our desires, and our true feelings. Unaware of this important component of their communication, many leaders have had a negative impact on the people they work with. On the positive side, body language, also known as non-verbal communication, is something that we can learn to change so that we can be more effective communicators. Through your posture, their facial expressions, hand gestures, and use of space, all leaders can learn to express enthusiasm, warmth, and confidence.

Using Behavioral Tools to Facilitate Discussion

The E3 Assessment is a particularly revealing, powerful, and relevant tool for developing your employees’ capabilities. Whether you are a newly promoted leader or a seasoned leader, the E3 Assessment will help in making your coaching sessions more effective. Because the E3 Assessment is built on actual data the employee has self-selected, you will be able to easily identify the strengths and growth areas of a person and facilitate conversations about what they agree with and want to focus on. Instead of prescribing behaviors you want them to modify, you can instead ask your coaching participant what behavior they believe they can modify based on their results ,creating a collaborative and positive environment for growth.

 For more information about how you can start using the E3 Assessment in your coaching process, contact us today! 

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *