Coaching vs Managing Employees: Differences and Examples of Both

March 8, 2022

Coaching vs Managing

Managers play a crucial role in any organization, for the simple reason that they increase both the efficiency and effectiveness of their employees to the benefit of the whole company.

But while teams require managers to manage them, as well as to plan, organize, lead and control outcomes, they also need the manager to coach and develop them. 


Because coaching, in its simplest form, helps others to perform better. It leads to better employee engagement, it results in higher productivity and output, and it enhances customer service. 

In fact, research shows that leadership coaching delivers 5.7X ROI

The bottom line is that coaching really is one of the best ways to transform a team from ordinary to high performing. And managers are uniquely placed to provide on-the-job coaching for their employees. 

But when should managers manage and when should they coach? Where is the line between managing vs coaching? 

In this article, we’ll explore the role of a manager and coach (and how the two differ), explain when to manage vs coach, and provide guidance on how to train your managers as coaches. 

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Manager vs Coach: What's the difference?

HBR reports 70% of employee development occurs through direct, hands-on experience rather than through formal training. 

This correlates with the 70-20-10 learning model, a model created by Morgan McCall and the Center for Creative Leadership, which revealed 3 types of learning:

  1. 70% of learning comes from job related experiences, experimentation and reflection, for example through challenging experiences and assignments.

  2. 20% from developmental relationships and working with others.

  3. 10% from formal education for example, coursework and training.

So, why is this important? 

Well, by understanding how learning happens, both you and your organization are better equipped to harness impromptu learning and development opportunities, as well as build a high performance learning culture.

Plus, with 70% of learning happening through spontaneous instances, it means that managers are responsible for providing employees with the support they need to help them develop professionally. 

And to do this, they have to use a mixture of coaching and managing skills. 

But before we dive into when to coach and when to manage, let’s first explore each role a little more in depth.

The role of a manager

Managers aren’t simply the conduit between leadership and employees. They’re the driver for employee engagement and motivation.

They provide guidance and direction for the daily activities of both individuals and team, and they are ultimately responsible for improving their performance.

To do this, they often have to perform functions such as planning, organizing, directing, and delivering outcomes. They also have to be a figurehead, a leader, a motivator, a coordinator, and a decision maker, as well as a coach.

The role of a coach

The role of a workplace coach is to provide direction, instruction and/or training to a team or individual employees. They deliver customized learning experiences tailored towards the needs of the people they’re working with. 

They usually provide coaching via one to one sessions or through group training. They’re typically thought of as guides, enabling employees and teams to reach new heights, rather than as teachers or instructors. 

In fact, coaching is often confused with teaching, so it’s important to distinguish the difference between coaching and training. 

The bottom line is that coaching isn’t simply educating. After all, as it’s carried out in the workplace, on-the-job, any learning the individual or team does is reinforced through practical experience. 

A coach therefore facilitates the learning, offering advice to the individual or team, identifying areas of weakness and strengths to develop, while offering regular feedback.

The difference between managing and coaching

The critical difference between managing and coaching is that a manager directs. They have authority, they have needs to fill, and they have to achieve a specific outcome. 

A coach, on the other hand, develops both people and teams.

Through regular meetings, they explore, facilitate, partner with, and help their employees become better versions of themselves by giving them the space to problem solve and accomplish their goals. They enable long term improvements resulting in various outcomes. 

But business requires leaders to be both coaches and managers.

Knowing when to manage vs when to coach

So, when should managers manage and when should they coach?

Managing is required typically in a crisis situation, when there’s time pressure or when the team has little experience or competence to get the task done, for example.

That’s not to say managers should assume a command and control style of leadership though. Instead, they should know when to direct, delegate, or develop team members. This is critical.  

Coaching, if time and task allows, works best for developmental purposes. Particularly if the team is a high performing team comprising competent individuals. Managers need only define outcomes, and then step back and support and develop individuals to achieve them.

As a point to note - just because we’ve highlighted the difference between the two approaches, doesn't mean managers should only adopt one approach or the other.

Most teams and individuals will require a combination of both depending on the complexity of the task, their competence levels, and their experience. 

The 3 D's of Management: Direct, Delegate, Develop

There will be times that a manager needs to manage. The question is, when?

Below, we've outlined the three D's of management, and provided guidance on when managers should be using each approach:

Direct: Managers may need to direct team members when they have low competence, skills, or abilities to achieve the task outcome. This may be the case when an individual is new to the role, the team, or the company.

Delegate: When the team or employee has moderate competence, for example they have prior experience or they are confident in their abilities. This allows the employees to determine the approach they’ll take to achieve the outcomes, within the parameters set by the managers. Support and direction is provided as required.

Develop: When the team or employee has high competence and is committed to achieving the outcome. For example, they may have extensive prior experience or demonstrable competence. 

In essence, there will be times when a manager needs to manage and direct, and not just coach, but the more time a manager can spend coaching, delegating and developing their team and individuals, the more effective the team will be in the long term.

How to train your managers as coaches

For managers to become leaders, they have to be able to coach employees. Coaching is, after all, a core skill for a successful 21st century manager. The days of command and control leadership as a way to manage people are long past.

Today, coaching is the most effective way for managers to lead employees

So, why don’t all managers coach? In short, because they either don’t understand the value of coaching, or, more likely, they don’t know how to coach. 

The question, therefore, is how can you train your managers as coaches? 

1. Encourage managers to understand the value of coaching

You can’t make a manager who doesn’t see the value of coaching, a better coach.

By educating managers that the most successful leaders and executives are also excellent coaches, they are more likely to be inclined to learn how to become an effective coach. 

You could also highlight the wider benefits of coaching, not just for the organization, but closer to home too. For example, their teams will be able to achieve better, stronger results if they’re coached, because they will be more developed as individuals and team members. 

Which in turn will reflect well on them as a manager. Plus, if they’re looking to further their own career, being able to coach is only going to enhance their skill set. 

2. Teach them coaching skills

Coaching won’t come naturally to every manager. For new managers, or managers who have only ever known command and control leadership, it can require training to shift their mindset away from developing their own individual skills, to developing their coaching skills. 

Core coaching skills include things such as listening, observing, mentoring, constructive feedback, empathy, and accountability. Managers can enhance these skills in a variety of ways: workshops, mentoring relationships, modelling other coaches, or a dedicated platform such as Saberr.

3. Ensure managers practice coaching on a regular basis

When an employee presents a challenge, it can be incredibly tempting for managers to give them advice for how to solve it.

The problem is, that’s a short term solution that won’t develop long term problem solving capabilities. 

Strong coaches practice their coaching skills daily, in real life situations, whenever a coachable moment arises. Or by creating coachable situations such as regular one on ones with employees, or team retrospective meetings, for example. 

Practicing can include:

  • Active listening - when an employee explains a problem, the manager reflects the problem back to clarify they’ve heard what the employee said - ‘What I hear you saying is…’
  • Asking open ended questions - allowing employees to reach solutions by their own deductions. 
  • Giving regular feedback - both positive and negative. 
  • Goal setting - for both individual and team goals. 
4. Provide managers with a mentor

How do you make coaches a better coach? By giving them their own coach. Social learning is how the human race evolved after all, we didn’t get to where we are by staying in silos. 

We learn through relationships, by sharing knowledge, and by observing those around us. And in the workplace, a great way to improve a manager’s coaching competence is by learning from their own mentor.

If we learn best by hands-on experience, then having an experienced coach coaching them to become a better coach will transform your managers. Not only will it give managers first hand experience of the benefits of coaching, but it will also give them a model to replicate in their own coaching practice.

5. Give them the tools to coach

For managers to develop as coaches, they need to be equipped with the right tools. Tools that give them the knowledge, resources, and means to develop their coaching capabilities. 

Coaching vs Managing Blog Image Template-2

Final thoughts on coaching vs managing

Coaching doesn't come naturally to all managers. And you certainly shouldn’t assume that just because someone is in a leadership role, they know how to coach. 

But it is a skill that can be taught. At least it is when the manager is equipped with the right training, tools, and support. 

The problem is though, even when organizations invest in their managers and enrol them onto a leadership development course, it's often ineffective.


Because there's a chasm between what they learn, and what gets put into practice. At Saberr, we close that chasm. 

In fact, we believe in learning by doing, which is why we not only provide experiential coaching - such as masterclasses, live sessions, and one-to-one, peer group, or team coaching, delivered by world leading coaches - but we also give you access to our digital coaching platform to ensure that their learning sticks, and that they're subsequently developing the seven habits of highly effective teamwork

To learn more about how we can support you in developing leadership development programs that work, have a read of this. Alternatively, schedule a call with us here to talk to our team.

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