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Manager vs Coach – Using 4As to Tell, Coach or Mentor.

Dr. Lee Kang Yam

Chief Learning Curator | Flame Centre

Manager vs Coach

Managers are increasingly being trained in coaching skills and there are many who championed the idea of Manager as Coach.

Managers who become coaches in the workplace have encountered resistance from their staff/coaches who seek direct answers or solutions.

Some manager coaches have given up the coaching approach by adopting a direct managerial approach. What is wrong? Is coaching not working? Coaching is useful but for different purposes.

The key question managers as coaches struggle with is, when does coaching end and management start and vice versus? Clearly differentiating the role of a manager and coach would help to understand when to wear the managerial hat versus the coaching hat.

A manager is accountable for work outcomes, sets KPIs, deploys resources, monitor work progress, provides feedback, training, review and reward staff performance. The manager often provides a direct solution or answer to a work problem.

A coach partners the coachee in dialogues, helps clarify thinking, sparks creativity, and taps into the potential of the coachee. The coach does not provide a solution answer to the problem. The coach is accountable for the coaching goals but holds the coachee accountable for the agreed action. The manager will likely provide an answer to a staff’s question but the coach will ask a question to the question.

So, how does a manager know when to manage or coach?

I used the 4As to help me to decide.

Here are the 4As:

1. Alibility

2. Aptitude

3. Attitude

4. Altitude

1. Alibility

When a staff lacks the ability, knowledge and skills to perform a work task then instruct, direct and manage the staff. For example, if a staff who does not know how to operate the equipment or provide an answer to a customer's query, it would be more effective to train and tell the staff that there is an SOP or correct manner of performing the task. If the staff requires a Performance Improvement Plan, then direct telling, training, supervising, monitoring and reviewing the performance would be preferred to a coaching approach.

2. Aptitude

Aptitude means the capacity to learn and do something well; a talent, flair or gift. If the intention is to bring out and amplify the aptitude of the staff, then coaching should be used. Through a collaborative and partnering process, the manager can help the staff tap and unlock hidden sources of talent and increase the capacity of the staff. For example, a staff may have a flair for public speaking and coaching can be used to further hone the talent through exploring possibilities and uncovering limits to thinking.

3. Attitude

If the employee already possesses the required knowledge and skills to complete a work task or assignment but is experiencing Attitude-related issues, e.g., falling motivation, lack of confidence, fear, negative energy, loss of focus and determination, then coaching would be appropriate to help the staff identify and work on what is holding him/her back from the desired work performance level. Coaching is useful because the answers can only be found within the employee. External solutions, suggestions and interventions without true commitment and conviction from the affected employee are ultimately quick fixes, not workable and unsustainable. The employee needs to clarify what’s blocking him or her first before feeling confident and committed to taking action to unblock their internal barriers.

4. Altitude

Lastly, Altitude is the quality of moving and acting between short and long-term perspectives at both the tactical and strategic levels coupled with a strong self-awareness as a leader. If the aim is to develop the altitude quality of the employee, then coaching would be highly suitable. The manager as coach partners with the coachee in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize his/her potential and unlocks previously untapped sources of leadership.

Next time, when a manager is debating whether to manage or coach, use the 4As to help determine the correct hat to wear and the approach to use. What other situations would be suitable for coaching? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

If you find this useful, check out our Performance Management tools and how we can help managers and organizations manage appraisals to align, inspire and empower high performance.

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