Managers Want To Coach, So What’s Stopping Them?

And that’s not just based on anecdotal experience. A new study asks managers about their leadership preferences: Managers want to coach.

Over on HBR’s Blog Network this morning, Jack Zenger and Joe Folkman posted some results of a new study on coaching attributes and perspectives. You can take the assessment here if you’re interested.

Their study compares managers’ preference more traditional, directive leadership or leading via coaching. Here’s the distinction:

In my view, coaching is superior to directive leadership. So these results are good news.

Both styles will get the donuts made, but when leaders use a directive style, their direct reports wait to be told what to do and how to do it. I’d rather have direct reports that took initiative, innovated and developed great solutions on their own and came to me throughout the process for feedback or to update me. I think that’s way more valuable for everyone involved – the direct reports, me as their manager, and the company as a whole. It’s also good move in terms of getting and developing top talent not to mention keeping employees engaged and supporting innovation.

But that doesn’t mean that managers actually are leading as coaches.

And that’s the kicker. Zenger and Folkman acknowledge this, too. I think most manager value coaching on a cognitive-level. They recognize their administrative title comes with the onus to coach. They know how to talk about it – but they don’t always know how to do it when they’re in the trenches. For some, coaching will come more naturally but for many of us – I think there are some barriers that we need to acknowledge.

3 Barriers:

1. High Assertiveness. When you’re naturally really assertive, you’re naturally inclined to take the lead, give direction and advice, and do so directly. You tend to emerge as the leader or decision-maker in leaderless groups. Here’s what makes this challenging: if you’re highly assertive, you probably don’t realize the range of ways you express your assertiveness. Beyond that – you’ll still be perceived as highly assertive by less assertive people even when you’re trying not to be.

2. Attitude Towards Failure. When things go sideways, is that okay? If the leader or the organizational culture treats failure as entirely negative and unacceptable, true coaching is unlikely.  When failure is seen as an opportunity to learn, albeit frustrating and defeating, employees are more likely to take the initiative to tackle challenges and solve problems. Same goes for innovation.

3.  Trust. Coaching means acceptance and ongoing discussion of weakness. Which means vulnerability. That takes trust. If the direct report doesn’t trust their manager, coaching isn’t going to happen. The good news is that leading through coaching can help managers gain their employees trust. Takes time and consistency.

That’s just what I came with off the cuff. What other barriers do you see?



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