In HR meetings, conferences and HR sites, one of the common questions that one comes across is “Can operating manager be a coach? Is it possible for a manager to wear both the hats?’
I’d like to share my personal experience which hopefully would clarify some questions around it. Though anecdotal, but I believe it serves its purpose to a great degree.
While leading strategy driven systemic changes at the Organizational level has been my area of work for many years- I knew I was missing the joy of engaging at individual level and watch the miracle called “transformation” happen. During my quest to find a long term, structured solution- I came across a Coach- who was a practicing senior level manager, then a consultant and now a full time coach.
In the very first meeting, I presented him with a barrage of questions. [Later, in every meeting when he’d introduce me to others, he made a practice to say that “Be careful, Rajesh always has lots of questions...”]
To summarize, my questions were something like these?
“Can a practicing manager be a Coach? “
“A manager is busy making decisions- directing people, telling, solving problems- whereas coaching involves facilitation, allowing people to do deeper search and find solutions for themselves- where is the time for coaching?’
“Isn’t it better to engage services of consultants rather than embarking on long drawn coaching program?”
Conversation that followed thereafter brought about a great deal of clarity- here are the excerpts-
Coach: What kind of people do you hire in your organization?
Rajesh: Well, at my level, I have been consciously hiring capable, experienced and ambitious people with right values at right place- these are the people who take the Organizations forward.
Coach: I heard you say that a manager is busy making decisions, giving solutions, directing, telling etc. Do such capable and experienced people required repeat telling, selling decisions etc.
Rajesh: Well, not always, but at times they require clarity.
Coach: What I heard you say that only at times they require clarity, but for most of the time their managers are busy doing exactly what their team members are perfectly capable of doing by themselves.
Rajesh: Yes, it’s kind of dilution of capability.
Coach: What kind of work style do you personally prefer?
Rajesh: Well, I like my manager giving me desired results, success vision and broad direction on how to go about. I need space and freedom in terms of going about it.
Coach: And how do you feel when your manager directs you most of the time, he expects periodic feedback and puts a rigorous monitoring around your activities.
Rajesh: I already feel stifled as you say all these. Yes, I have gone through such phases in my professional like and it felt frustrating. It felt so small!
Coach: And how was it while working with managers whom you enjoyed working with?
Rajesh: Well, there was freedom, trust; I felt my manager believed in my capabilities. Mistakes were treated as learning experiences and I knew I worked in a non-judgmental, safe environment.
Coach: So Rajesh, can practicing manager be a Coach?
This conversation brings out some key aspects.
Coaching works for intrinsically motivated individuals, who want to learn new competencies, raise their performance bar and have an overall positive journey.
With an internal measurement, effort improvement yardsticks already in place, all that the manager of such individual needs to do is create a non-judgmental, objective and feedback based environment.
I personally experimented with creating a structure wherein apart from on-the-job coaching which happens during the flow of work, I agreed with my colleague upon specific coaching hours in a week. Discussions, outcomes and action plans were recorded and reviewed in the subsequent meetings. I can say with confidence that such formal structure multiplies the effectiveness of individual development and nurturing talent.
My conclusion- Manager as a coach is not a hypothetical concept- there are many successful managers who are already donning Coach Hat and getting wonderful results out of their reporting employees. Creating a formal support structure further adds to its effectiveness.
- Rajesh Vaidya