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Don't Be a Man-Ager; Be a Coach

Don't Be a Man-Ager; Be a Coach

by Benjamin Erikson-Farr
Don't Be a Man-Ager; Be a Coach

Managers hold the engagement and well-being of their team members in their hands. Bad managers are toxic. Not only do they undermine the positive culture and performance of an organization, but they also negatively affect the engagement and personal well-being of the individuals who report to them.

Gallup research shows that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement, so organizational efforts to increase engagement are wasted on employees with bad managers. Worse still, low engagement is linked to higher levels of stress. This stress extends beyond the walls of the office, affecting employees on the drive into and home from the office during their commute. According to medical research, stress exacerbates many health conditions. Scientists believe many of these negative health conditions actually accelerate the aging process. In sum, a bad manager can literally be a man-ager.

A Man-Ager in Practice

Let's take a closer look at an example of how a manager with poor performance can negatively affect those on the team: Sarah was the most tenured employee in her department, so she was promoted to a management position. Gallup's extensive research on management found tenure to be the number one reason people are promoted to a management position, regardless of the fact that tenure does not correlate to performance in this role. Sarah was ill-equipped to be a manager. Her intentions were good, but her behavior was disengaging. She preferred her natural comfort of managing her inbox and completing tasks to pursuing meaningful interactions with her staff. In short, she ignored her team. When her staff made discretionary effort, she did not notice. When they were confronted with conflicting priorities, she could not help her team sort to the most important. When they did good work, she did not understand how to praise them in a way where they felt valued. And her team struggled. One Gallup study found that when managers ignore their team, nearly 99% of employees are not engaged.

Managers like Sarah are far too common in our workplaces today. She was a hard-working team member who was excellent at moving along a process. But the missed opportunities to engage her people emotionally left them feeling stressed. They did not experience the positive energy of praise for good work, or the clarity of focused expectations, or the intimacy of trust-building when something went wrong.

The Shift From Man-Ager to Coach

With 87% of workers not engaged worldwide, organizations are leaving potential on the table. Higher engagement links to key organizational performance metrics including turnover, productivity, profitability and safety. The missed opportunity of reengaging disengaged employees is a global crisis, stagnating companies and entire economies. Fortunately, all organizations have access to a simple and powerful solution: a great manager. Here are two findings that can give us hope:

  • 61% of workers who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their strengths are engaged.
  • 90% of workers who strongly agree that their manager focuses on their development are engaged.

Simply put, great managers are strengths-based coaches who develop their team members. Great managers are catalysts for creating a positive culture and high performance in an organization -- and they transform the engagement of the individuals who report to them. Don't be a man-ager. Be a coach.

Let's take a closer look at an example of how a manager can positively affect those on the team: Mary was a young branch manager recently promoted at a regional bank. The branch had a good location, but staff turnover had been rampant under the previous manager, and performance suffered. Over the next 18 months, Mary engineered a complete turnaround and the branch was awarded a prestigious sales and service award.

How did she do it? She focused on what people naturally did well, and unmotivated employees either improved their attitude or decided to leave. She talked with and listened to her team, and people felt inspired to contribute more. She praised her team when they succeeded and corrected them when they failed, and they repeated their successes and learned from their failures. Mary was not only a manager. She was a coach.

Slight shifts in a manager's approach can go a long way toward making an employee feel heard, known and developed. A manager who coaches begins with a person's natural patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving -- their talents. A coach also focuses on the four development catalysts that lead to powerful people management. Don Clifton describes these catalysts in Soar With Your Strengths: right expectation, relationship, recognition and mission.

Managers should apply the following concepts related to the catalysts; each of these will be further explored in this "Manager as Coach" blog series.

  • Talent orientation trumps task orientation: Coaches think first about employees' talents, and then they assign the tasks that employees need to accomplish.
  • Right expectation: Coaches prioritize and specify expectations that align with employees' strengths.
  • Relationship: Coaches authentically care about people and put people's development at the top of their "to-do" list.
  • Recognition: Coaches know that every interaction -- not just monthly or annual events -- is an opportunity for recognition. They individualize the recognition based on employees' talents.
  • Mission: Coaches know that the "why" of an action is far more powerful than the "how." They personalize the "why" to resonate with each team member.

Individuals deserve to have managers who behave as coaches. Their engagement and well-being depend upon it. Companies need to hire and develop more managers who have natural talents for coaching. Their organization's overall engagement and performance depend upon it. The global economy needs millions of managers who coach. The engagement, stability and growth of the world depends upon it.

Learn more about using CliftonStrengths to help yourself and others succeed:

Benjamin Erikson-Farr's Top 5 CliftonStrengths are Analytical, Connectedness, Learner, Achiever and Relator.

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