The Manager’s Role In A Coaching Culture


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By: Corry Robertson, PCC

The Manager’s Role In A Coaching Culture

Coaching delivers results, and organizations are more and more devoted to giving their managers throughout the ranks access to coaching. Coaching brings many direct benefits to the bottom line.

Building a coaching culture is an investment that pays off for organizations. It’s not only good for the employees who work there but it also helps their future replacements learn how to be better coaches, too! 

By investing in coach training programs and developing strong coaching cultures throughout your company you’ll have more people ready when opportunities arise – which means higher morale as well as increased productivity levels across every department imaginable.

Professional coaching has had a proven impact over the past 20 years and is now seen as a ‘must have’ offering within organizations. Many organizations understand the benefits of coaching and coaching culture and wish to build a coaching culture strategy themselves.

What is a coaching culture?

Coaching culture can be defined as a workplace environment where the ICF coaching competencies are woven into the values of the organization. The workplace becomes one where coaching competencies are learned, wholeheartedly embraced, and consistently leveraged throughout the ranks.

In coaching cultures, leaders and managers are formally trained in coaching skills and practice these skills to develop the potential of their direct reports, who then work to maximize their performance and make meaningful contributions to their teams and workgroups.

​​A coaching culture offers employees at all levels the opportunity to grow professionally, contribute value to the organization and reach their goals with coaching as the fundamental style for leading, learning, and working. 

Manager shaking hands with employee

The role of managers in a coaching culture

In a coaching culture, coaching skills are taught to managers, preferably in the early stage of their management careers, however, it is never too late to learn! ICF accredited coach training should be provided to all managers as soon as feasible within the coaching culture strategy.

Although many managers throughout the ranks are naturally drawn to coaching, learning how to be a trained coach with ICF accredited coach training is the gold standard for success. Without the training and the mindful, intentional use of coaching skills, results will be hit or miss and therefore inconsistent. 

Inconsistent leadership leads to a lack of trust and safety on the team. A team member who does not trust their leader, usually also harbours a degree of disrespect for them. For more on trust and psychological safety in the workplace, watch our on-demand webinar here.

Coaching vs. managing

The best managers know how to blend coaching with other leadership styles to get results. In a coaching culture, coaching is considered the fundamental leadership style, and is always the preferred method for communication, motivation, and productivity. However, managers must decide when a pure coaching conversation is appropriate or not. 

When is coaching not a good fit?

Here are a few examples of when a pure coaching conversation may not be appropriate:

A manager assigns deliverables to direct report who does not know where to start. In this case, the manager would provide strategic direction, not coaching. 

Goals are being set, and a direct report does not have the necessary skill set to succeed. In this case, the manager would need to include training in the mix, not pure coaching.

When the direct report is missing resources necessary to achieve their goals, it is futile to coach. Instead, before assigning goals, the manager should talk with their team members to discuss the available resources and winning conditions.

Other instances where a pure coaching conversation may not be appropriate:

  • Difficult news needs to be delivered
  • News of a decision or change needs to be communicated
  • Remedial training is required
  • Rewards or consequences are to be allocated
  • In the case of an emergency situation

When is coaching a good fit?

Coaching conversations are a good fit in the following scenarios:

  • To follow through on training to ensure that the learnings transfer into behaviour and habit.
  • Performance management and improvement
  • Career planning
  • To develop high performers
  • Design strategy, set goals, create action, remove barriers, solve problems. 
coworkers with hands together

What skills does a manager need to coach?

A manager must have the right skills and environment to provide coaching as a leadership style. The following elements are essential for success:

Trust and safety: if the manager is unable or unwilling to establish a climate of trust and safety on their team, coaching will be futile. See our trust and safety webinar for more insights.

Clarity: The manager must establish clarity about the business plan and strategy with their direct reports, and the purpose, vision and mission of the organization. Once clarity around culture and strategy is established, the manager must also be clear about roles, goals, and objectives

Positivity: Positivity means thinking about what we want instead of what we have now: focusing on the solution, the outcome, or the result that we are striving for, stated in terms of what we want and not what we don’t want.

Here are a few simple examples:

Positive: be on time
Negative: don’t miss the deadline

Positive: let’s maintain our client base and build upon it 
Negative: don’t lose another client

Positive: let’s build healthy communication
Negative: I don’t want any more backstabbing 

Future-focused: Future-focused managers communicate what they are working towards, describe what the future looks like when their team is successful. 

Results-oriented: Results-oriented managers communicate the goal, describe the objectives that will get them to the goal, and describe how success will be measured. 

Accountability:  The coaching approach is a two-way street. Leaders who use coaching skills know how to partner with their direct reports so that accountability conversations are positive and productive. A manager who adopts a coaching style supports direct reports in knowing what they are accountable for and directs them to ‘self-lead’ so that they don’t need to be micro-managed.

Coaching culture in the workplace

Coaching as a leadership style for managers

For an organization to achieve a coaching culture, coach training should be considered as Leadership 101, and all leaders on the management track should receive ICF accredited training from a coach training academy.

But it’s important to note that coaching as a leadership style for managers can be different than most 1:1 coaching relationships. For example, a manager can and should default to the coaching competencies as their fundamental leadership style; however, it is not always appropriate or possible for every conversation with a direct report to be a pure coaching conversation. 

Your managers may have all of the qualities and inner talents of a coach, but without professional coach training, they will not have the skills to leverage the coaching movement. Coach training is essential to develop and hone their coaching skills for success.

Research shows that coaching helps employees improve performance, overcome challenges, reach aspirational goals and build self-confidence. Coaching also leads to better engagement, higher productivity, and enhanced customer service. 

When all the members of your internal coaching bench – your managers – have professional certified coach training, you can be sure that you will reap the tremendous and proven rewards that coaching brings.


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Corry Robertson

Sought-after coaching culture expert, Corry Robertson has been helping leaders uplevel employee retention and performance for over 20 years.

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