Coaches are Not Managers


There is rightly some skepticism about new management ideas. Sometimes we appropriate new words to describe what we are already doing. For example, it is common to hear people speak about coaching as a word to describe counseling, friendly management, mentoring, supervision, psychological interventions and advising.

Coaching is none of these.

It is important for executives who are considering bringing coaching practices into their organizations to understand what coaching really is if they are not to be disappointed and join the skeptics who dismiss this powerful idea as just another ‘flavour of the month’.


Coaching is a different paradigm, a different context for getting things done with people. Coaching requires a different way of observing, a different way of thinking, and a different ‘way of being’. While some managers may also naturally be good coaches, traditionally there are some very fundamental differences:

  • Managers see their role as directing or controlling people’s performance to accomplish predictable results. Coaches view their work as exclusively about empowering people to accomplish unprecedented results on their own.
  • Managers have goals and are generally focused on previously defined tasks. Coaches are oriented to the commitments of the people they coach and align commitments with the common objectives of the organization.
  • Managers try to motivate people. Coaches insist that people motivate themselves.
  • Managers are responsible for the people they manage. Coaches demand that the people they coach be responsible for themselves and the game they are playing.
  • Managers derive power from authority. Coaches derive power from their relationship with the people they coach and their mutual commitments.
  • Managers think about what is wrong and why problems happened. Coaches are looking for what is missing and what needs to happen in the future.
  • Managers look at the future based on their best predictions. Coaches look from the future as a possibility in the context of a commitment to creating a new reality.
  • Managers lead teams. Coaches create opportunities for others to lead.
  • Managers plan to determine what the group should do. Coaches make unreasonable commitments and then plan how to fulfill those commitments.
  • Managers solve problems within constraints and limits. Coaches use constraints and limits to achieve breakthroughs…unprecedented results.
  • Managers focus on techniques for getting people to do work. Coaches provide a way for people to see possibilities and choices for themselves.
  • Managers use rewards and punishment to control behaviour. Coaches trust and enable the people they coach to manage their own behaviour.
  • Managers are reasonable. Coaches are unreasonable.
  • Managers think employees work for them. Coaches work for the people they coach.
  • Managers may or may not like the people they manage. Coaches love the people they coach—whether they like them or not.
  • Managers look for results and whether they agree or disagree with reasons for what happened. Coaches look for results and whether they observe actions that are consistent with people’s commitments.
  • Managers maintain and defend the existing organizational culture. Coaches create a new organizational culture.