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Give Up Bossing, Take Up Coaching: You'll Like the Results

Give Up Bossing, Take Up Coaching: You'll Like the Results

by Jennifer Robison

Story Highlights

  • Employees want their managers to be coaches, not bosses
  • Some instinctively know how to coach, while others must be taught
  • Great managers have frequent, meaningful conversations with workers

Gallup started studying managers many years ago (including an analysis of 49,495 business units with 1.2 million employees across 22 organizations in seven industries and 45 countries) and found that great managers are completely different from adequate ones.

In brief, they're not bosses. Bossing is the least of what they do and a last, unwelcome, resort. Rather, these managers are coaches. And coaching is distinct from bossing, Gallup's research shows, in three key ways:

  1. Coaches focus on individual and team engagement, seeing their role as the provider of what employees need to succeed. Whether by training or preternatural talent -- or, ideally, both -- they know the 12 elements of engagement by heart and deliver them.

    Bosses, on the other hand, usually just tell people what to do.

  2. Coaches understand, leverage and get great satisfaction from deploying the unique talents and strengths of each employee. Great managers are always developing and positioning talent to maximize outcomes, and they get extraordinary results from it: Workers who know and use their strengths average 10% to 19% increased sales and 14% to 29% increased profit, among other bottom-line results.

    Bosses, by comparison, often just supervise production.

  3. Coaches set clear expectations and performance goals, offering feedback that optimizes individual strengths (a rare practice, as only 26% of employees say the feedback they get helps them do better work) and increases team effectiveness.

    Bosses, however, typically watch for opportunities to correct or punish employees whose performance doesn't measure up.

There's another, maybe more noticeable, difference between great managers and less effective ones: The best managers talk to their employees and teams. A lot. But it's not their word count that defines them -- it's what they say.

Great managers know great performance comes from frequent, meaningful conversations with their workers. They can't abide "management by remote control." They know what to talk about because they know their people well, which sparks the conversations that improve performance and build genuine relationships.

So it's a pity there are so few managers like that. Only about two in 10 managers intuitively understand how to engage employees, develop their strengths and set clear expectations through everyday conversations. In effect, only about two in 10 managers instinctively know how to coach. But the others can learn.

How Managers Can Learn How to Coach

If leaders want their managers to take daily accountability for employee engagement, performance and development -- to truly give up on bossing and begin real coaching -- those managers need to be coached themselves.

That will require leadership's ongoing support: training, resources and internal best-practice champions. In fact, a multidimensional and longitudinal development strategy for managers is leadership's best option. But organizations don't have to design a whole new management structure -- just execute on the right resources.

Gallup's learning programs and courses can help managers build their own individual development plans, increase their own capabilities and solve their own local-level problems. And time is of the essence: Managers are 27% likelier than their employees to report feeling a lot of stress at work, and many are at risk of burnout. Moving managers from boss to coach may require a better manager experience.

The best managers talk to their employees and teams. A lot. But it's not their word count that defines them -- it's what they say.

Leaders should also keep close tabs on their managers' engagement. Managers are slightly more engaged than individual contributors -- not much of a coup, as roughly a third of all U.S. workers are engaged -- and their feelings about work can affect the rest of the team. As one manager Gallup interviewed noted, employees watch and take cues from their manager. While bossing just requires stamina, coaching requires purpose and belief. And leaders can do a better job of investing in manager development.

Be a good steward of time and talent. Start coaching soon.

Gallup research shows that seven out of 10 leaders and managers see developing people as one of their primary tasks, and that's a good sign. Engagement, performance and development are interlinked and interdependent. The conversations that great managers have -- can't help but have -- weave engagement needs, performance coaching and development opportunities together. That brings clarity to strategy and goals, allowing workers to do what they do best.

To be honest, not every manager is capable of that. Some believe their role is to crack the whip until goals are met. Those people have no business managing others. That's why a scientifically valid selection instrument is so important -- it tells leaders what kind of manager they're putting in charge of employee performance.

Their teams wish leaders would hurry. Along with researching managers, Gallup has been tracking the "will of the workforce": the elements of a job that matter most to workers. The most highly talented thoroughly reject command-and-control management. They crave development. They expect purpose. And they will leave a boss as fast as they can in search of a coach.

Seven out of 10 leaders and managers see developing people as one of their primary tasks.

The best workers want the kind of manager Gallup started studying years ago -- the exceptional ones who catalyze outstanding performance, development and engagement through conversation. Leaders should want that kind of manager too.

Those managers are how companies succeed. And they are completely different from everyone else.

Have you ever said, "Frankly, my team has too much talent"? We thought not. Find the best, and then develop them to be even better:

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