On Coaching vs. Management

Posted on June 5, 2022

world's greatest boss

Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Ido Ivry, co-founder and CTO of Zencity Follow Ido on Twitter and LinkedIn.

What I’m Reading: Principles for dealing with the Changing World: why nations succeed and fail, nothing beats reading about Macroeconomics when they change. By Ray Dalio.

What I’m Listening to: Cautionary Tales, a great podcast about disasters, stupidity and plain bad luck.

What I’m Watching: Anatomy of a scandal. Not bad.

I recently celebrated 20 years of working in “adult jobs”. You know, with a real salary, and a boss. For about half this period, I had the privilege of also managing employees. I’ve witnessed, learned from, and was on the receiving end of many managers, leaders, and mentors. Writing about management is a touchy subject for me: one of my early bosses almost drove me away from the path I’ve chosen for myself (software development), leading me to believe I wasn’t good enough at what I did, and it’s taken me about 7 years to try again. It didn’t matter that my teammates left that team one by one.

There are so many styles of managers, most of us have seen some of these: the satellite manager, who doesn’t care about the details (or employees for that matter), good at strategizing but not the day-to-day tasks; the beloved micromanager, who believes in giving orders and likes things done exactly as prescripted, to the very last excruciating details; the likable Laissez-faire manager, who… lets everyone do whatever they please as long as they like them, and dare not interfere with direction; or the democratic manager who likes to deliberate on any decision, policy or project with the group, believing that team contribution is key to success and inviting anyone and everyone to participate. I’ve certainly had my fair share of some of these, and they are not necessarily bad, it depends on the nature of the work, the team, and the situation!

But one management style I’ve run into is particularly great, and you wouldn’t forget having a manager that has this mindset: the coach manager. I’ve had the fortune of having (or witnessing) a few managers that believed in this style of management, explicitly or just in practice, and I want to share a few practices I’ve witnessed, and am now trying to replicate with my teams, in the hope this inspires one or two local government leaders. Coach managers:

  • Understanding work makes a profound difference in their subordinates’ lives, and never taking for granted the fact that the people on their team spend most of their waking hours at work, but also remember to consider, think, and be interested in their team’s life outside of work: their family, their interests and their quirks. It’s always to work for someone who asks about your family and hobbies.
  • Practice true team leadership, which is the belief that committed teams to produce outstanding results, and if the team shines then the manager shines, and if the team doesn’t deliver, it usually means that the manager needs to get better, not only the team.
  • Tell you the things you need to hear, even if they are hard for you to hear, exactly like a good coach will do: when you do great, they will remember to say something nice, and when you screw up, they will tell you exactly why and make sure this doesn’t repeat, building trust and loyalty by being relentlessly candid.
  • Usually don’t provide answers, but show you the way to advance and move forward, these are managers that will not prescribe solutions for you, but usually make you understand what your current blocker is (usually: you are the blocker), help you move around it, and plunge you forward. In Steve Jobs’ words, they take the longer-term view on people.
  • Keep the team’s goals and well being as their main interest, by constantly seeking to improve the team members’ skills, their communication and collaboration, and their well-being and safety to collaborate.

We are at a time when it’s very, very hard to get people to come to work motivated, let alone stay for the long term. I think practicing being with a coaching mentality when managing people has the chance to increase motivation, loyalty, and of course efficiency of teams. I hope you agree, but if not I’m happy to hear why!

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