Stop managing, start coaching

For many years I believed I was managing effectively by telling people what to do. By being a ‘go to’ person that people called on for advice and guidance I was being a good manager. I must admit it gave the ego a nice boost to feel that I was an authority figure, a person with knowledge who provided advice regarding complex issues and problems. In the world of HR, people constantly look to you for advice and there is always more than enough complexity to deal with.
Rather than holding the space for the person I was managing to think through the issues, options and potential way forward themselves, I simply rushed to offer advice so that I could move on to the next task. My team seemed happy with this, we were getting the job done, and my ego was boosted too by feeling I was managing people well. Wins all round.
Whilst I always endeavoured to tackle things in an approachable, calm and measured way, ultimately my interactions with my team constituted me giving them advice and instruction. Often this was due to time pressure, with rushed conversations that needed to quickly formulate a solution or unblock a problem, or barrier to progress. I was trying to fix problems. It felt like perpetual firefighting.
But something felt missing in my approach. Something just didn’t feel right. I challenged myself to find what that was. I now realise there were some fundamental flaws with the approach I was adopting, both in terms of developing my team and myself.
[1] My approach was predicated on me having the best solution. Being the manager, I thought I knew best. It was a positional power thing. The manager should have the answers, after all, that’s what managers were supposed to do. It’s quite an arrogant approach if you really stop and think about it. If I couldn’t offer my team immediate solutions to their problems, what good was I doing? I hadn’t realised that the people who can provide the best answers tend to be those closest to the work itself, typically those on the front line of organisations.
[2] I created a sense of dependency. My team would enter conversations with the expectation of me providing an answer or a solution to the issues at hand. I didn’t feel I could ever really switch off. Stress built up. My team were not developing the critical reasoning and analytical skills to take full ownership and responsibility for the tasks. I wasn’t allowing them to. I thought I was helping people but in fact I was holding back people’s development and ability to reach their full potential
[3] I wasn’t curious enough. I didn’t ask nearly enough questions to explore the different options, factors and issues associated with complex HR challenges. I hadn’t enquired sufficiently about how the team member was approaching and seeing things from their perspective. I may have helped people by providing a quick answer, but I hadn’t helped with the important and valuable long-term work of improving self-awareness, resilience and responsibility for action. I hadn’t checked their reasoning and approach on the part of the team member who was delivering the work. The psychological ownership of the task still sat with me and that was problematic.
By fundamentally shifting my approach to one of coaching rather than managing, it has been one of the most powerful and impactful things I have ever done. It has allowed me to help others in ways I wasn’t previously able to.
The transition was not easy, at times it felt uncomfortable and clunky. The urge to dive in and give advice remains, but I am getting better at resisting that, as it leads to better outcomes. It does require being more patient and curious so that the individual can explore the solutions for themselves. Easier said than done, granted, but crucial for building the sort of skills organisations will need moving forward.
The power of reflection on this point has been remarkable. It provided many new valuable insights and learning opportunities. I’m now such a huge advocate of coaching that I could never go back to traditional management. If it was up to me, I’d make coaching along with the associated skills of emotional intelligence which underpin it, mandatory in education systems for children across the world.
Sometimes depending on the situation, you need to adapt your management approach of course but the overall philosophy is always to seek to inspire and encourage others to adopt these crucial skills and contribute towards a coaching culture. I now take any opportunity to put coaching principles into practice in every conversation I can. Coaching feels like a muscle, it strengthens when we use it regularly. The impact in terms of people’s sense of feeling valued is tangible, and the most fulfilling aspect is when you begin to see and feel the ripples of others adopting a coaching mindset in their interactions with others. You begin to realise your impact as a manager can go way beyond the specific job role and you are contributing to a cultural legacy which strengthens the whole organisation.
If we are really going to make our organisations more human, and fit for the future, we need less traditional management and much more coaching.



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At Apex HR, we believe in challenging the status quo when it comes to people at work. Outdated HR thinking and methods just won’t cut it in a rapidly changing and dynamic world. It is time for a new approach.