Managers as Coaches: BetterUp is Unleashing The Power of Developmental Leadership

The role of managers has transformed from mere task masters to empowering leaders. Traditional management styles centered around hierarchy and control are gradually giving way to a more collaborative and growth-oriented approach. As organizations recognize the value of coaching in unlocking the full potential of their employees, the question arises: Can managers effectively assume the role of coaches?

In this blog, we will delve into the insights gained during BetterUp’s Coaching Culture Tour in Boston and explore the idea of managers as coaches.  It was a privilege to be part of this learning and networking event.  Shonna Waters, PhD. of BetterUp delivered the keynote on the cutting-edge findings from BetterUp’s latest Coaching Culture research report — a study of 30k+ employees and 850+ leading organizations.  Pamela Fuller, also of BetterUp, facilitated a customer panel conversation with Lisa Itzkowitz, associate director of leadership development at Colgate-Palmolive, and Larry McAlister, talent and transformation expert, formerly vice president of talent at NetApp.

Creating a Coaching Culture:
During the Coaching Culture Tour, a diversity and talent executive raised an important question about the role of managers in becoming coach-like figures. The executive acknowledged the positive impact of coaching on personal and professional growth, but wondered if managers could adopt coaching skills programmatically. The response from the customer panel and keynote speaker emphasized the importance of training, celebrating coaching achievements, and fostering a culture that embraces coaching principles.

Larry McAlister recognized the significance of coaching and incorporated it into their talent enablement strategy. They organized “Thrive Thursdays,” where real-life examples of coaching in action were shared. By showcasing how coaching opportunities manifested in employees’ lives, they highlighted the benefits of coaching and encouraged its adoption. Moreover, he transformed the mindset of his team from “talent managers” to “talent enablers” who empower individuals and teams through the best tools and processes.

Managerial Coaching Training:
To bridge the gap between managerial responsibilities and coaching, organizations are investing in training programs for their managers. One example shared during the Coaching Culture Tour from Lisa Itzkowitz was a Leadership Program for first-time managers, which included coaching as a component. This program aimed to equip managers with the skills needed to effectively coach their teams. Similarly, another talent leaders was developing a comprehensive people manager capability program that assessed managers’ coaching abilities and provided specific training on coaching as a managerial skill.

The Dilemma of Manager as Coach:
The discussion highlighted an ongoing debate: Can managers truly serve as coaches? While certified coaches exist separately within organizations, the idea of managers adopting a coaching approach remains under scrutiny. The consensus was that managers might not fulfill the same role as dedicated coaches, but they could embody a more coach-like leadership style. By embracing coaching principles, managers could enhance their leadership effectiveness and drive positive change.

Behaviors and Leadership Adaptations:
Recognizing that managers may not have the same depth of coaching skills as certified coaches, Larry stressed the importance of adopting a coaching mindset and incorporating coaching behaviors into leadership practices. Managers were encouraged to explore one or two coaching techniques that would have a significant impact on their teams. This approach empowered managers to leverage coaching principles without being confined to a rigid coaching framework.

The Developmental Ecosystem:
A key concept discussed during the Coaching Culture Tour from Shonna Waters was the developmental ecosystem. This concept acknowledged that managers have dual responsibilities: performance and development. While managerial coaching focuses on performance outcomes, a dedicated space for personal development, where coaches are solely focused on the individual’s growth, remains essential. Professional coaches play a vital role in providing a safe, outcome-free environment for personal development, complementing the efforts of managers.

Coaching as a Verb:
The concept of coaching as a verb versus coaching as a noun was also explored by Shonna. Coaching as a noun refers to professional coaching, where individuals possess specific certifications and expertise. On the other hand, coaching as a verb represents the application of coaching skills within one’s existing role. The panel emphasized that anyone, irrespective of their job title, could benefit from adopting a coaching mindset and skill set. By embracing coaching as a verb, individuals can enhance their communication, collaboration, and leadership capabilities.

The role of managers is evolving. Embracing coaching principles and adopting a coach-like leadership style can empower managers to unlock their team’s potential. While managers may not replace certified coaches, they can still incorporate coaching techniques into their interactions, fostering a culture of growth and development. By investing in training programs and creating a coaching ecosystem, organizations can enable their managers to effectively support their teams’ growth. Coaching, whether as a certified profession or as an applied skill set, holds immense power in shaping a thriving and resilient workforce.

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