What’s the difference between managing and coaching?

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In the world of business, I’ve noticed that the term “managing” and “coaching” are often mistakenly interchanged, especially in more informal settings between two parties in the workplace. So what is the difference between these two roles, and are we channeling our managing skills when we should be coaching and vice-versa?

When we think of the word coach, we might initially picture a sports coach- energetic, passionate and shouting encouragement from the sidelines. How does this differ from our perception of a manager? Perhaps we associate a manager with a work setting, and an exchange of instructions or expectations between a senior individual and his or her direct report.

While the roles often become blended in the workplace, what are some of the key differences between a manager and a coach?

  • Coaching requires relationship development: In order to be an effective coach, a relationship of trust, respect and interest in the others’ success is required between two individuals.
  • Managing is directive, coaching is teaching: A coach provides tools and skills to assist the individual achieve the outcome. A coach will allow the individual to make decisions, cultivate their creativity and learn by doing. A manager provides instructions and monitors performance.
  • Managing is often task-oriented and individuals perform their tasks to meet specific project outcomes; Coaching is long-term and involves supporting already high-functioning people to achieve both the goals of the project and improve their individual skills

There is nothing inherently better or worse than being more of a manager or a coach, however, you will find that different situations call upon you to apply qualities that are specific to one role or the other and being aware of when it is best to coach or to manage is a skill on its own.

When to manage:

  • A crisis or high-stress situation: Managing would be best employed in a situation where a specific outcome needs to be realized and employees or colleagues may require direction instruction and follow-up.
  • Individual who is learning a new role and still developing skills: More hands-on management is required for new employees in order for them to understand the workplace culture and a manager’s expectations for performance.

When to coach:

  • High functioning work team: High functioning individuals already know the expectations of their roles and are competent performers. They require support and vision from their coach and they are motivated to perform their best because they have the trust of their coach.
  • When mistakes can lead to constructive learning: When the situation allows you to take risks, a coach will allow their employees to employ trial-and-error tactics and potentially make mistakes to discover the best way to accomplish something. This ultimately leads to greater learning, understanding and ownership over a project.
  • *Most of the time: As a coach, you are encouraging initiative, learning and the development of a personal style, which not only helps you achieve the goals of your company, but fosters motivation and productivity in the workplace.

Can you identify times when you have been a coach or a manager? What other situations require a more managerial approach? I look forward to your thoughts below.

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