Coaching vs. Managing: Why coaches are better leaders than managers

For the past several years, I’ve had the pleasure of coaching young females in the sport of softball. Throughout my time, I’ve learned that being the coach of a team and being a leader within an organization is not much different. The same principles span both responsibilities. In fact, when you use coaching principles in an organization, you often reap more than if you were to “manage” like many organizational leaders prefer to do.

According to the thesaurus with which Microsoft so generously equipped my word document software, the term “manage” is synonymous with words like “govern,” “supervise,” and “administer.” The term “coach” is synonymous with “teach,” “educate,” and “prepare.” Compare the two terms as well as their synonyms. Is it as obvious to you as it is to me? There is a distant, authoritarian connotation radiating from the term “manage,” especially when paired with the gentle, nurturing term “coach.” Which type of leader would you like to work for? And, for those in leadership positions, which word would you like associated with your leadership style?

If the thesaurus doesn’t do it for you, there are always the practices that accompany either term, practices that I would like to argue are the very reasons why adopting a coaching style is more effective (and enjoyable) in the workplace than managing.

Coaches are leaders first. Managers are bosses first.
Ask any great leaders what their job is, and most of the time, they will tell you that they are responsible for motivating, inspiring, teaching, listening to and guiding their employees. They do this because they know that an organization is much more successful when they have thirty brains working on solutions rather than just one or two leaders’ brains working and thirty brains waiting for orders from the top.

Bosses, on the other hand, don’t see thirty brains. They see thirty pairs of hands that are made for completing orders and finishing tasks. By doing that, bosses put a limit on organization potential with each underestimated member of their human capital.

Coaches give advice. Managers give orders.
When you adopt a coaching leadership style, you value certain things. Instead of valuing the ability to issue orders, boss around employees and micro-manage the entire office like a manager might, you value the ability to help employees discover, plan for and then reach their potential. You value guidance, support and encouragement, and you do this because you know that a coached work environment is more enjoyable for all employees. You also know that by coaching employees to think for themselves and make their own informed decisions you save their time, your time and the company’s time. Leaders who coach get more out of each employee every day, which turns into greater productivity and greater success.

Managers have to micro-manage nearly every decision. They rob employees of the freedom to find a solution, and, by doing that, they kill any creativity that might have otherwise saved a company money, found a more streamlined process or earned additional revenue. Employees become worker bees, ants that blindly follow the leader without question. This kind of creatively-dead environment generates boredom, unhappiness and lackluster performance, all things that retract from organizational success.

Coaches promote teamwork. Managers promote hierarchy.
Ask any (good) sports coach, and they will tell you that teamwork is what wins games. With the exception of individual sporting events(such as golf or tennis)—which, in this case, would be compared to a sole proprietorship where you work on your own, and thus is inapplicable—the cohesiveness and bond that exist between co-workers are what keeps them constantly striving for superior results. Teammates hold each other accountable, and once you’ve reached the point in your career where your employees are continuously raising the performance bar on each other—in a healthy way, of course—then you have successfully done your job as a leader.

Managers focus on a hierarchy of task-givers. They value the ability to pass down tasks from the top to the bottom, often times without trying to develop the relationships that occur from level-to-level. Managers tend to value being “above” others, frequently counting how many people work beneath them and striving to increase that number, and often making enemies and burning bridges on their way.

Please don’t confuse this with the need for middle management or a system of promotion. Certainly both are necessary for many organizations. However, good leaders make sure that they raise the performance of all those around them, not just themselves, because they understand that a team or organization can only function as well as its weakest player.


  1. says

    I agree with all your points. I work a lot with Daniel Goleman’s model of leadership in both 360 and as a framework for Managers to reflect on their situational and contextual leadership.

    The model describes a leadership style of Coaching along with others. Interestingly research into the model by Hay Group found that the coaching style along with the use of Visionary, Participative styles had a positive impact on culture and climate in teams and organisations.
    The sustained use of a directive and a pacesetting style (“do it as I do”) had negative impacts on culture and climate if used in a sustained way.

    I like the inference in your blog that coaching is more than a practise but a style, and one I too try to encourage in others.

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