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Submitted by the USPS Employee Assistance Program
“Manager is a title; it does not guarantee success. Coaching is an action—not a title—and will result in success.”
—Catherine Pulsifer, inspirational author
If a survey was taken of every, single manager in the world, we could assume there would be universal consensus that being a manager can be challenging at times. While opinions regarding the actual work of management may diverge, some may describe the role as “challenging, but rewarding,” while others may disagree and say managing is “stressful and unfulfilling.” At the end of the day, our primary goal should be finding solutions to the different challenges the position offers.
One commonality managers share is the reality their job performance and effectiveness mostly is based on the performance of those they supervise. Think back to the days before you became a manager.
You only had to focus on your performance. Let’s say you had clear goals for yourself and you could pursue those goals with a single-minded determination. Your focus was your performance—very much a singular pursuit. You were in control.
When you became a manager, there was a clear shift in thought, expectation and behavior. An interesting point is that while your responsibilities increased, your sense of control seemed to decrease because others’ behavior was your responsibility.
For those in supervisory positions, the reality is things do not always go as planned; staff may not always be cooperative, responsive or as effective as expected and critique is leveled from the bottom and the top. The understandable and typical response to these challenges is to resort to the traditional authoritarian management style of telling, ordering and directing results. While this approach may have some short-term beneficial impact, results relying on this style have long-term consequences that diminish effective leadership.
In 1960, there were two theories about worker types. One theory believed most people do not want to work and only will be productive under strict discipline. The second theory said employees can be trusted to work without being disciplined and often will seek additional responsibilities when their work is valued and they are appreciated.
Since the 1960s, the workplace gradually has become more diverse and evolved; these two distinct theories have become more developed. The modern workplace requires leadership to address the needs of a more sophisticated workforce, while continuing to manage the needs of the business. This has required leaders to develop a balance between the first group that needs to be managed, while the second group will do better with a coaching style of management.
In order to fully understand the manager as coach, it is important to explore the differences between the two approaches. A manager directs a team. This direction comes from an established history of professional knowledge and accomplishment, which empowers the manager to direct, devise plans, provide solutions and oversee the workplace.
A coach also possesses a history of professional understanding and accomplishment. They offer consultation to employees, assist employees in developing their own knowledge base and problem-solving skillset and support the overall development of the team and job. While a manager fixes a problem or issue, a coach encourages employees to find effective solutions. The art of effective management is not adopting one style over the other, but knowing which one to use depending on the employee.
You may be thinking, “This is all well and good, but exactly when do I wear which hat? When do I coach as oppose to manage?” Here are some practical guidelines offered in “Know When to Manage and When to Coach,” (Forbes, 2012):
Direct/manage when an employee:
Delegate/coach when the employee has:
Coach/develop when the person:
Consider these remarks from managers and their perspectives on coaching:
“I’m definitely one of those managers who’s energized by removing roadblocks my team faces. Nothing makes me happier than to hear, ‘Task X is so much easier now!’ Being able to turn the vision of a smooth, straightforward and simple process into a reality is my favorite thing about work generally. And it’s a huge part of why I’m enjoying managing more than I thought I would.”
“Dealing with the interpersonal stuff can be harder because you can’t ‘fix’ people in the same way. I try very hard to be fair, reasonable and calm in all my dealings with my team, but there are certain behaviors I have a hard time relating to and are harder for me to coach because of that.
“I tend to have a ‘striver mentality’ at work by my nature. It’s tough for me to come up with ways to elicit more effort from my reports who don’t have any particular desire to be more than average. I know I need to get better at coaching away the ‘meh’ and, by extension, not letting an employee’s ‘meh’ lead me to having hard feelings toward them.” (www.askamanager.org, 2016)
“I really enjoy managing a team. Yes, there are a lot of challenges and I work long and sometimes crazy hours. Yes, there’s a lot more riding on my decisions than when I was an individual contributor. Yes, that means at times it can be stressful.”
“Being a manager really plays to my strengths. I love people to be successful, helping lead people to accomplish bigger goals and helping people learn. My personality handles the big picture well. I get a lot of satisfaction from making big-picture plans come to fruition. Also, I’m good at building relationships with people all over my organization at all levels and across multiple teams. I take a lot of satisfaction from being able to leverage those relationships to create cross-team, win-win outcomes.”
“Management definitely isn’t for everyone. But I’m definitely happier, more satisfied and more engaged as a leader than I felt as an individual contributor.” (www.aska-manager.com, 2016)
In 2016, Forbes wrote about the six behaviors of managers of high-performing teams:
The focus of a coach is on the development of people as opposed to output of product. It has been shown that when staff is valued and developed, higher-performing teams result. As stated in the beginning of this article, as a manager’s effectiveness is determined by the performance of their team, the coaching paradigm offers job satisfaction for subordinates, as well as the distinction of high performance for the manager/coach.
When given the opportunity to learn and grow, employees thrive. By adopting a coaching mentality and approach when appropriate, you can help your team reach its full potential. An investment in individuals will help retain strong talent and foster a culture of positivity and opportunity, which is a win for the Postal Service. The difficulty sometimes lies in the shift from a managerial mindset to one of a coach. Here are some tips to help you get started:
In a busy environment where staff is expected to meet deadlines with limited resources, coaching may seem like a luxury no one can afford.
But the truth is coaching truly can increase employee engagement. Good coaches can improve the quality of worklife for individuals and help build a supportive culture. People often turn to those they feel they can trust—a coach— when taking on a new challenge. Building trust with your team will result in valued, confident employees who boost the productivity and impact of the Postal Service.
Are you interested in additional resources and training that can help you become a better coach? The Employee Assistance Program provides coaching and consultations for leaders. Give us a call at 800-327-4968 (800-EAP-4YOU) TTY: 877-492-7341.
Coaching from the EAP can help you reach your goals. The added confidence you gain from receiving good training will make it easier to accomplish high performance. By working with a coach, you have someone to:
A coach can not only motivate you, but help you succeed. Coaching also can teach you skills to help you achieve your goals. When you feel unprepared or untrained for a certain task, it can be extremely easy to put it off out of fear of failure. The solution is to get the training, skills and education you need to complete the task successfully and with confidence!
However large your goals or challenges, you can fulfill them by taking the right approach. Even if you’ve struggled to make progress in the past, a good game plan and your EAP coach can help turn your good intentions into solid actions. Reach out; we’re here for you!