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Why Managers don't make good workplace coaches?

Workplace coaching is still being referred to as ‘the new general management skill’ but there is solid research that should convince us not to train our line managers as workplace coaches.

As true today as it was then, in 2009 the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (230,000 members globally) published results of a study into this trend. They found that the line manager’s role is often in conflict with the dynamics needed for an effective coaching relationship.

Is this a big deal?

Yes, because confusion between a manager and their direct reports is the last thing you want in the workplace.

Why shouldn’t managers be workplace coaches?

A real-life example will illustrate the problems.

Bill (name has been changed) is a top-notch line manager: he is direct and clear in what he expects of his team members, supportive (to a well-defined point) of them, and his team performs consistently quarter-on-quarter.

Recently, Bill was cross-skilled as a workplace coach and the following problems emerged straight-away: as a workplace coach, he would focus his direct reports on generating solutions that they would personally commit to. But as a line manager, he wanted them to select a particular option based on his experience, budget and the timeframe.

This resulted in confusion with some of his direct reports: ‘Bill, you’re telling me to choose this option but I thought I get to choose which option works best?’.

In addition, Bill reported a problem with coachee confidentiality: he gave an example where, in a coaching session, one of his direct reports divulged an out-of-hours problem with a work colleague. Suddenly, Bill understood that this situation had contributed to the repeated lateness of this other person’s deliverables in the current month. Bill wanted to raise this as a concern in the monthly KPI meeting with this other person but he was in a professional bind: the fact had been divulged to him during a workplace coaching session.

So why is ‘workplace coaching’ still being taught to line managers? 

Possibly because it’s the latest training ‘topic’ for the professional skills development of line managers.

Whatever the reason, this doesn’t make good sense: workplace coaches are focused on developing confident and critical thinking skills and personal accountability in their coachees. Line managers are focused on using these skills to drive the required performance.

By keeping these two focuses separate in the workplace, eliminates role confusion and removes a distraction for line managers who are already taxed for time.

Matt Featherstone has a degree in psychology (Macquarie University) and has taught and coached professional skills development for 17 years.

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