No Image Available

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Should managers be coaching?


Written by Simon Leckie, Development Consultant, LSN

The views on the role of a manager as a coach or mentor are as wide-ranging as the views of coaching and mentoring.

Many point out that managers are ideally placed to coach and mentor, and will have many of the skills required as part of their existing management skills set. Developing managers as coaches will equally improve their overall performance as a manager too.

Conversely, others argue that the nature of the management relationship can actually prove to be a significant barrier, and will stifle the development of the open and honest relationship needed for effective coaching and mentoring.

What both viewpoints do agree on though is that there is a need for a high level in the skills required to coach, and that a willingness to adopt a different style – adopting a partnership approach rather than formalised line management – is vital.

Whitmore (2002) says that empathy, integrity and detachment are critical and it would be hard to argue that these characteristics were not equally important to effective management. Zeus and Skiffington (2000) discuss the need for excellent interpersonal skills and a supportive and collaborative style (again, who would say that these weren’t desirable traits for a manager?) whilst maintaining that a manager may still need to take a more directive approach to coaching because of the nature of the relationship with the coachee.

Below are outlined some benefits and risks of managers acting as coaches:


  • Managers well placed to provide coaching as and when required
  • Managers will understand organisational culture, strategic goals and priorities
  • Coaching skills part of managers’ skill set
  • Managers will have understanding of team members skills and expertise


  • Power relationship between manager and coachee may inhibit development of trust and openness
  • Manager may not understand organisational culture, strategic goals and priorities any better than coachee
  • Manager may  have poor coaching skills
  • Previous experiences may affect manager’s and coachees’ perception of capability and could hinder impartiality

CIPD research shows that coaching is increasingly being seen as the responsibility of line management. The 2009 survey Taking the temperature of coaching  showed that line managers supported by internal coaches were responsible for 63% of coaching delivery, whereas coaching by external practitioners was reported by only 15% of the sample.

The 2010 Learning and Talent Development survey carried out by CIPD showed that 56% of respondents identified coaching by line managers as an increasing trend.

Despite the conflicting views, there is a clear trend towards the use of line management as the means through which organisational coaching takes place. Regardless of the potential risks it is clear that managers are seen to have a clear role in coaching, and the benefits are felt to outweigh the risks. To mitigate the risks inherent in using managers as coaches, the supervision of coaching practice becomes extremely important to ensure that the very things that make coaching so effective are not lost due to the nature of the line management relationship

The Coaching at the Sharp End research report published by CIPD in 2009 examined the role of line managers in coaching at work. The report found that the manager as coach can be described as a management style characterised by:

  • Regular coaching conversations
  • Effective feedback processes
  • The encouragement of superior performance
  • The development of productive and trusting relationships in the workplace

The research found clear indications of the contribution that a coaching style of management can make to developing and retaining high-performers and ensuring a robust and proactive approach to managing poor performance. Developing line managers as coaches was also found to deliver the following benefits:

  • Better team relationships
  • Enhanced levels of self-confidence
  • Improvements to engagement, flexibility and commitment

In the current economic climate organisations simply do not have the money to invest in external coaches and this, combined with the need to maximise the value of existing resources, means that performance management is becoming increasingly important. Given that managers are a key component in the performance management process, and that coaching provides a highly effective approach for improving an individual‘s performance, it is hard to see how the case for not using managers could be argued.

I am seeing firsthand the benefits that developing managers as coaches delivers. I’m involved in a programme where we are training over a hundred senior managers across an organisation in Dubai.

So far, we’ve trained nearly half and the feedback we have been getting from those that have taken part has been nothing short of amazing! The impact that the use of coaching has had is incredible, leading to managers being asked by their Directors how they managed to achieve such dramatic improvements in performance of their teams.

The answer is that coaching is engaging employees in the organisation’s priorities, and getting everyone to provide their solutions and take ownership of putting improvements in place.

A quote from one of the managers says it better than I can:

“Everyday I am experiencing the coaching in my daily work. It really inspires me to continue on leading my team in professional manner”

If that doesn’t convince you that developing managers as coaches so that a coaching style of management can be applied across all day-to-day activities, then nothing will! 

Simon Leckie, Development Consultant, LSN

2 Responses

  1. Great article on a topic that needs to be discussed.

    Simon – I agree with the points you make in your article. Applied coaching techniques provide a clear benefit to managers at all levels. When you consider that coaching techniques can help with many of the challenges managers deal with – from building and managing effective relationships with your boss and peers, to solving problems collaboratively, to dealing with ‘problem’ employees. Not to mention its benefit in having constructive performance discussions with employees.

    However leadership development consultants and trainers do need to be careful in how they ‘train’ managers in coaching. We do need to pay attention to the fact that whereas an external coach has (in as far as is possible) no agenda, the manager coach will always have one. If the manager coach seeks to apply coaching but does not reveal their agenda then there is a significant possibility that the employee being coached will sense that with obvious impact on any sense of trust that existed.

    So while I believe that all managers would benefit from being trained in applied coaching techniques, it is improtant to highlight when coaching is appropriate (where the manager can reveal their agenda) and when it is not (when the manager has an agenda they cannot or, are not willing to, reveal).

  2. When managers coach the results can be amazing

    Mike – thanks for commenting on this. It’s great that you have also seen the difference that managers can make when they use coaching skills as part of their approach to management.

    You’re also absolutely right that managers should be open and honest about the coaching that they carry out with their staff. Managers don’t have the luxury of being outside the organisation in the same way that external coaches will. As such, the issue of boundary management becomes even more important and it’s vital that when coaching their team members they establish a coaching agreement that clearly explains the purpose, scope and roles and responsibilities of the coaching that will take place. In the training we deliver we emphasise the need for establishing a clear agenda for any coaching and we also spend time exploring coaching dilemmas, helping managers unpack potential issues inherent in the manager as coach situation, e.g. when coaching a member of your team you are approached by HR and advised that disciplinary procedures are about to be implemented that you will need to take part in – what should you do?

    The potential benefits of managers being developed as coaches are many and well worth the realtively small investment required. I’m lucky enough to be involved in training managers to be coaches in an organisation in Dubai, so far we’ve trained 40 with another 70 to go. The impact of coaching even at this early stage is incredible, especially when you bear in mind that the culture is very much a ‘tell’ style of management. Listening and questioning skills are, generally speaking, not that well developed but by the end of the programme we have seen amazing changes in all the people that have taken part. It really is extremely rewarding to see the difference in the people on the programme and hear the results that they are achieving, even at this early stage. In fact, we received an email today from one of them that was sent by the manager to his colleagues on the programme and I just wanted to share it with you:

    "I would like to share with you that I’ve experienced some beautiful and successful coaching sessions and the credit, definitely, goes to Shirley and Simon for sharing their knowledge and time with us. I’m sure you have, also, experienced at least one successful coaching session by now."

    It’s great to get this kind of feedback and it certainly proves what I’ve always believed, when managers are given the skills and confidence to coach the impact is felt every day and the potential that lies within every single employee can be realised. If that what coaching isn’t all about then I don’t know what is! 


No Image Available

Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!