What separates highly effective managers from average ones ?

management wheel

A disclaimer first, I am passionate about coaching. I believe in its efficacy as a methodology for improved performance, leadership development and relationship management.

Organisations do too! In fact, according to Project Oxygen, a project conducted by Google on its own people, the single most important managerial competency that separates highly effective managers from average ones is coaching.

Coaching has been adopted as a mainstream learning methodology by the corporate world. Over 85% of all fortune 500 companies now use coaching as the most preferred learning practice. The figures do not look like they are ababting. “We’re looking for a leveling off [in coaching’s popularity], and it’s not happening,” says Magdalena Mook, ICF executive director and CEO.

Part of that results from a change in corporate culture: Companies that once provided coaching only to C-suite executives now offer it to middle managers and others, she says. – June 30th 2015

Strangely, despite agreement that coaching is a good practice, at most companies, coaching isn’t part of what managers are formally expected to do. Time and skill are the two most prevalent excuses given for its lack of adoption by managers. 

The purpose of Coaching

The core purpose of coaching is to enable learning ,development and change in an individual in real time connected to the challenges of work. Coaching supports adult learning using a conversational practice that is deliberate and intent on supporting another do their own thinking.

In context, the world of work is increasingly stretched, with a greater emphasis on virtual leading, globalisation, ubiquitous change and a pernicious need to adapt and flex. Two big trends continue to dominate the world of work, retention and engagement. Employers lament the lack of engagement of employees with engagement figures languishing around 27% (Gallup). Significantly Millennials now account for the largest part of the workforce, demanding more flexibility, mobility, meaningful work and accelerated development like no preceding generation.

What to do?

Well we know that employees are not primarily motivated by money. A fabulous survey conducted by MIT and made famous by Dan Pink in his TED talk, the puzzle of motivation, showed us that once the question of money is off the table three things motivate employees: Purpose, Mastery and Autonomy.

What this means for Leaders and managers is the need to be able to go “below the line” to tap into their own emotional intelligence and inquire differently. Leaders need to be able to access and leverage an employees motivation, engage them in what needs to change and empower them to be more self reliant, risk taking and autonomous. I don’t mean independent I mean less micro managed where managers are asking questions and not telling.

Coaching supports the development of another and equips them to dig deep and realise their own potential accessing their ability to contribute to the organsisations vision mission and goals.  But to do so means significant change on the part of the leader.

Adopting a coaching orientation at work takes skill and practice. For those who assume, perhaps erroneously, that they are right or they hold the answers then the path to coaching may be tough.

The mind-set of a Leader as Coach or any person able to get the most out of their talent presupposes a belief in others, a belief that learning is possible and people are inherently willing and able to grow. A growth mind-set.

Equipped with a growth mind-set a Leader then needs to employ a whole host of behaviours and skills to effectively coach. These include a willingness to relate, to respect the intent of another and then to let go. Letting go is a big deal.

Most leaders that I meet are attached to what made them successful and as such have a hard time delegating, getting out of the way and relinquishing control. One enlightened Leader that I had the privilege to coach said at the outset of our engagement that his goal for the coaching was to make himself redundant. That’s 21st century leading at its best.

How to get coaching?

The state of Coaching as a profession is much improved and is less of a cottage business and more of a sophisticated industry. Choice abounds.

Several organisations for example use a mix of interventions and a have a defined framework for coaching. They have parameters to guide the use of External Coaching for Senior Executive or High Potentials and Internal Coaching for the cadre of managers and supervisors. They use  Peer Coaching, Team Coaching , a growing phenomenon, and Application coaching supporting Leadership Development programs. The trend to support internal leaders with coaching skills continues to grow. Sherpa Coaching Report 2016.

Leaders as Coach

The Leader or Manager as coach is best supported in two ways according the American Management Association:

  • Employ an External Coach to come into the organisation to teach leaders on a modular programme
  • Engage with an External Institution who provide short Leader as Coach programmess 


Some tips for Organisations:

Some tips for organisations considering employing the use of coaching as a development initiative.


  • Clarity. Confusion abounds. The terms coaching and mentoring are often used interchangeably and are often misunderstood. There are several definitions that support the understanding of coaching and mentoring in the literature. An organisation needs to land on a definition that suits its purpose and about which it can communicate broadly.


  • A coaching strategy In many organisations coaching and mentoring services are often provided in a scattered and disjointed series of activities rather than a coherent and widely accepted strategy. This can mean that valuable organisational learning is lost or not captured in a meaningful way.


  • Leadership Buy-in and Modelling. Lack of leadership buy-in both to coaching and mentoring in particular and leadership development in general. The more Leaders model coaching as a way of leading and learning the more that message gets picked up and employed.


  • Administration Support. Inconsistent provision of administration support and co-ordination. The provision of coaching and mentoring across an organisation in a systematic way is administratively cumbersome and sensitive. There is a trend in some more sophisticated providers of coaching to hire a Head of Coaching with an administrative staff to support the embedding of this learning practice. Google and Facebook both employ heads of coaching.


Some final words

Coaching has evolved and the majority of organisations are now using a hybrid mix of external and internal coaches to support their talent development needs. The use of a coherent strategy for coaching and mentoring is relatively new but wise.

Like I said at the outset I am passionate about coaching and the more we can learn, innovate and practice this tool the better our work practices and results will be. 


Tara Nolan

Tara Nolan is an IMI associate who  teaches on the NEW Coaching for Business Results programme.

Tara specialises in developing leaders and managers in the practice of business coaching.

She has worked with top teams of many multinationals and her approach balances the needs of the company and individual while leaving a lasting, positive legacy of professional and personal change.