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Think about some successful colleagues. What accounts for the differences between these successful people and others at work? Successful people keenly notice differences between managing and coaching, and benefit from both effective direction and stellar development. For coaches, consultants, and others developing careers in managing people, an awareness of the differences between coaching and managing will help you to increase your effectiveness and influence.

What contributes to the differences between coaching and managing?

Coaches and managers differ by personality and style, as much as they do by the unique factors shaping their roles. The coach’s role is to support; the manager’s role is to judge. These differing roles have consequential impacts on performance and compensation. The coach might reward or punish you by increasing or decreasing attention, but a manager is key to any compensation increase or future promotion. Because of these role differences, the professional callings of coaches and managers frequently differ.

The executive coach typically has accountability to other stakeholders in a client’s ecosystem that include HR professionals, managers, peers, customers, and others. The nature of any coaching relationship places a primary emphasis on the client-coach interaction and accountability for progress is with the client. Managers are accountable to other executives and organizational stakeholders, funding altering accountability

Behaviors change and mindsets shift when coaching is effective. Behaviors that produce positive business and people results are rewarded by managers. The results skilled coaches and managers seek differ. The results that we want and need from each other fundamentally influence the relationship between an individual and his or her coach or manager.

The rules of coaching and managing differ, too. Coaches are much more likely to be experimental, varying approaches to help their clients. Managers often operate from handbooks, policy guidelines, and organizational customs. Performance standards or rules are often clear and outlined while coaching outcomes are more typically self-directed.

The effects of confusing coaching and managing

Great managers develop people, reflecting a value captured by Professor Henry Mintzberg’s statement, ““Organizations are communities of human beings, not collections of human resources.” Role-inferred obligations of managing don’t deter good managers from developing coaching skills. Coaching methods and techniques help managers to form better questions and learn more about collaboration and goal setting. The best people leaders know when to coach and when to manager, avoiding mixed measures regarding expectations and rewards.

Both managers and coaches influence employee contributions, but their targets of their influence differ. Employees have a responsibility for interpersonal effectiveness that accomplishes purposeful results that matter to their employers. Managers have accountability for outcomes and measures judged by financial performance or other measured outcomes. The ability to clarify expectations and goals is admirable in both coaches and managers. Because the goals of coaching and managing differ, effective managers don’t displace a performance focus with a development focus, but skillfully know how to blend both.

Management is often a fixed and settled game. Coaching is often an open and flexible playground. In the business of managing, progressed is measured in time and other units of measurement. Clients may escape transformative change in coaching, and still effective manager others by leading from current strengths. Sustained failures in the business game detract from a goal common to all organizations: survival.

Astute managers and employees are also aware of the differing consequences of coaching and managing. While managers might provide that next promotion or reward, an outcome of coaching might cause your great employee to move in a new direction. It might be starting a new job or the reignition a passion that can be valued elsewhere in your organization. My mentor, Charlie Seashore, wrote about the intense exploration that results from development, summarizing his ideas in an often-overlooked brief landmark article in Organization Development, In Grave Danger of Growing: Observations on the process of professional development.

Five differences in coaching and managing others

Ask anyone who has had positive experiences in being coached and managed to describe the differences, and you’re likely to hear consistent themes. The differences between coaching and managing cannot be reduced to either-or lists or from-to comparisons. Rather, it’s helpful to think about the differences as polarities, or concepts having different charges, properties, and valences. The differences between coaching and managing exist on a continuum of behaviors the influence employee belonging and engagement.

  1. Managers focus on one-to-many relationships and coaches focus on a one-to-one endeavor.
  2. Managerial effort is focus on attaining or exceeding objectives while coaches focus clients on achieving self-directed goals.
  3. Power influences every coaching and managerial relationship. Borrowing from the language of social psychology, managers have “power over” while coaches have “power with” in their relationships with each other.
  4. Managers operate from certainty, combatting the environment with plans and actions designed to measure success. Coaches open in the last certain environment of human growth and development, typically fraught with anxiety and fear.
  5. As stated earlier and elsewhere, this fifth point reinforces that managers have a primary task of judging, differing from the coach’s fundamental task of development. These differences in outcomes influences the four preceding factors.

The best managers know these differences and help people to succeed personally and professionally. Understanding the consequential differences between coaching and managing prepares leaders to direct and focus their resources appropriately. Managers serve their teams and companies well by developing and retaining talent. Among the critical challenge that people leaders face moving into 2021, is an urgent need to attract and to develop leadership bench strength. It’s time to strengthen the relationship between performance and personal accomplishment, and effective leaders can do this by clearly distinguishing coaching from managing.

Overlapping interests of great coaches and managers

One expression that dominates popular management is the idea that every employee deserves a great leader. While the limitations of the promise are evident to any observe, the promise in that statement continues to fuel interest in developing, managing, and leading others. And, the coaching industry is at a zenith, despite continuing economic shifts created by the global pandemic and renewed calls for justice.

The best managers and coaches share three common interests. First, they have a genuine interest in people. As long-time management veterans share their stories to inspire developing leaders, it’s common for them to express joy in as they recall examples of participating in a colleague’s success. Next, great managers and coaches understand that development is process, and don’t measure success by credentials and titles, but by the often-messy process of development and growth resulting in changes that matter. Finally, both coaches and managers are outcome-oriented, though the focus of their methods and goals differs.

Moving from Insights to Actions

Knowing the differences between coaching and managing is a first step to develop an approach to using this knowledge. Many coaches, consultants, and people leaders fail to make use of these differences and end up falling into some of traps previously described. People leaders often take it for granted that people understand the differences between managing and coaching, and the many other approaches that shape the development landscape, including mentoring and sponsorship.

To advance this discussion, and to focus your skills and leadership team on topics that matter, get clear how leadership makes a difference in your organization. When you align on a few principles or action pathways, you clear a course for increasing employee engagement and developing and extraordinary culture, capable of developing and keeping extraordinary talent.

Seek out opportunities in discussions with your team members and colleagues to discern the differences between coaching and managing and start bringing value immediately to your managerial or leadership practice, your team, and organization.