Managing != Coaching

While pondering about management and coaching I recently realized that my mental model needed some realignment with reality. I came to understand that functional managers don’t have to be personal coaches, and vice versa.

You see, in our organization we are used to the situation where every functional manager is required to assist people with their personal development. As managers, we care about our people’s skills, their knowledge and experience, their training, and their discipline (or, in some cases, lack thereof). For their good behavior we should offer compliments, and for their bad behavior (after a good scolding) we should offer a shoulder to cry on.

As functional managers, we are our people’s personal coaches.

But it doesn’t have to be that way…

Managing people is different from coaching people. As a functional manager you might be responsible for interviewing job candidates, writing procedures, enforcing procedures, controlling budgets, negotiating salaries, checking daily reports, checking weekly reports, checking monthly reports, checking yearly reports, and reminding people how important it is that they give you those reports. So you can check them.

And as a functional manager you must also make sure that all your people have a personal coach. But that doesn’t have to be you! You can delegate responsibilities and empower (senior) people to coach the others. In this model every person in the organization has both a manager and a coach. You could still be the coach for the seniors, but you wouldn’t coach the juniors. While still acting as everybody’s manager, you could save yourself a lot of time, while empowering your senior people, all in a single stroke.

(And while you're at it, you could find someone to be the personal coach for your senior people too. In the current economic downturn, hiring a face that's friendly and understanding can be much better for your people than having to fake one yourself. Just make sure that at least someone is helping them.)


The model of delegating coaching to senior people turns out to be very close to the situation in our Ukrainian office. Until recently I had trouble matching that situation with my own mental model of how things are organized in my own office. But my visit to Ukraine confronted me with the fact that managing and coaching are not the same.

I already knew that. But sometimes I need reality to act as a reminder.

(pictures by clairity and Ctd 2005)

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  • Krishna

    Good point, Jurgen. A manager has to always find how to delegate his tasks so that he can be ready to tackle increasingly important priorities. If the manager finds himself/herself spending all the time in coaching and is comfortable with that role, there is a high chance they are neglecting some other areas and/or they are not growing in their role.
    [On a different note, what a strange coincidence with the title. I had a post on a different topic with a similarly structured title.]

  • Angus McDonald

    I agree with Krishna, this is a good point. I just asked one of my senior people to take over the ‘management’ of a more junior person in a different technical specialty precisely for this reason. perhaps I should have posited as coaching vs management …

  • Pawel Brodzinski

    In big organizations this is a standard practice that a newcomer get coach or mentor who is someone different from your manager (and not necessarily a manager at all). I know of a couple examples when people discussed with their mentors whether they should change a company – something you wouldn’t talk about with your boss.
    Having a coach who isn’t a manager helps with one more thing: a manager will always have a bit different perspective than a senior colleague who is doing the same job as you.

  • CodeToGlory

    This is an excellent post, and I wish some Indian managers get a chance to look at your blog. I am trying to relate this to Indian programmers and managers. The programmers in my country have so much potential, they come out of colleges with great IQ, but are not coached properly in good coding standards. They are measured in terms of the number of lines of code they write rather than the quality of the code. The Managers themselves are promoted based on the number of years of servitude to the company, so I don’t think they can become good coaches. But a good coach can train these programmers and help them build their communication, presentation and coding skills. They are so overworked and exploited because of the outsourcing culture, that there is no time for self-improvement.
    Often times, these mundane things are ignored and they create a false image to the world when these very programmers are sent overseas for training their counterparts.
    I am doing my part in coaching, and I hope other do too.

  • mike

    Jurgen, it also indicates that you (or someone else) coached someone enough for them to be able to take over coaching. So the ability to delegate is the reward for putting in that effort.

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