Manager as Coach: Creating an Empowered Workplace

By: Barbara McAllister, M.S., PCC

I spent many years as a manager at all levels of government.   One thing I wished I had mastered was coaching skills.   I’m not talking about being a professional coach as manager; rather, I’m talking about wearing a coaching hat when it best serves the employee.

Arden Executive Coaching | Manager as Coach: Creating an Empowered WorkplaceEvery manager wears many different hats depending upon the circumstances. As manager I wore these different hats: coach, trainer, supervisor, facilitator, mediator, mentor, and teacher.   I want to talk more about the coaching hat and why I think it’s so important for managers to learn coaching skills.

A manager wearing a coaching hat is having a coaching conversation.

This may seem obvious but what does this actually mean?  In a coaching conversation, the manager is supporting the employee to take responsibility for their job and their job satisfaction, including solving their own problems. Manager as coach listens deeply, builds trust, acknowledges, observes, reflects, asks powerful questions, and is an accountability partner. When a manager is coach they can support their employee to discover the attitudes, beliefs and fears that may be holding them back from doing their best work or making their highest contribution.   Coaching is a partnership, so when a manager coaches, she is fostering adult-adult relationships, the key to empowerment.

In a coaching conversation, the manager is using coaching skills which are quite different from some of the other skills a manager needs.   For example, a manager also delegates, gives performance reviews, gives directions, creates order, solves problems and makes sure work gets done.   These are very important skills, but not those used by a manager when wearing a coaching hat.

When a manager masters the following coaching skills, a more engaged, creative and empowered workplace is possible.   These are some of my favorites which I wish I had cultivated during my management career:

Listen Deeply.

This requires presence and giving the employee undivided attention, letting go of expectations and our agenda. Listening deeply creates a high quality connection that invites people to open up and think creatively. It builds trust, which is essential, especially when things get tough.   This may sound easy to do, but it isn’t.

Ask/don’t tell.

Resisting the urge to give advice and tell people what to do empowers employees to come up with their own answers and solutions.   This may be challenging for managers because we have to let go of our belief that we know what is best. Remember that your path is not someone else’s. We ask open ended questions  that help employees clarify what is most important to them and what they most care about.

Invite shifts in thinking and speaking.

Many employees bring their complaints, concerns, problems or dislikes to the conversation. Inviting your employee to shift their thinking and speaking can be empowering. If someone has a complaint, we can ask them to turn their complaint into a request.  If someone is talking about what they don’t want, we simply shift the conversation by saying, “I hear what you don’t want, what do you want more of in your job?” While we want to acknowledge an employee’s frustrations, a manager as coach invites an employee to notice disempowering thoughts, beliefs and attitudes, so they can shift to choosing something that empowers them to move forward.

Build accountability.

By asking some very powerful questions, the manager as coach ensures that the responsibility for moving forward rests on the employee’s shoulders. Asking “by when” do you plan to accomplish that and “How will you keep the momentum going?” are a couple examples of this.

These types of coaching skills can transform your relationship with your direct reports, as well as the work they do. Practice a couple of the above skills and let us know how it goes!


Barb is passionate about teaching managers coaching skills.   She offers a two-day class which includes coaching demonstrations, the anatomy of a coaching conversation, coaching practice and feedback on coaching.   The two-day class is followed a month later by another day where managers reflect on their experience, learn additional skills, and gain more practice and confidence in coaching.  Contact us for more on these programs