Home » Reflections » Internal Coaching versus external coaching

The idea of ‘manager as coach’ is gaining traction. The reputation of professional coaching is rightly getting the attention it deserves in HR circles and increasingly we see the use of the the word ‘coaching’ in job ads and position descriptions.

Coaching as an alternative management style is very appealing and from experience we can see that the carrot approach certainly favours the stick to get the outcomes we are striving for. With some training, managers can learn some basic coaching skills, however it does take training and commitment to learning. True coaches have an on going commitment to  learning and self improvement as coaches, whether its through a credentialed coaching route from a coaching industry body such as the international coaching federation or a more academic route.

Realistically many managers do not have the time or commitment to learn these skills as well as the perform their daily duties. A common trap that many businesses fall into when considering using an external coach is that the coach does not have the same detailed understanding of the business as an employee. This is certainly true, but it is also a logical flaw. The value of coaching is in the coaching techniques, models and coaching processes not the understanding of the business. You may have heard it said that the coach owns the process and the coachee owns the content. In fact having a distance from the business is a distinct advantage for the coaching engagement. A coach will bring a ‘view from the balcony’ of the issue and is separated from workplace politics and emotions. Quite often in coaching the major realisation that allows a coachee to move forward were there all along but the coachee was too close to the issue to see it. We have all been there!

More often than not the biggest growth for a coachee comes from the most challenging conversations. This means that the coach and coachee must maintain an optimal rapport level for productive coaching. We call this a working alliance. The confidentiality contracts set up between the two parties is a key step in setting up working alliance. For a ‘manager as coach’ this presents a challenge. The ‘manager as coach’ will bring any history between the two parties (eg failed projects, disciplinary action, workplace disputes, negotiations etc) into the coaching engagement making the relationship difficult to navigate.

The concept of ‘manager as coach’ certainly holds some merit. A coach can work with your managers to teach and coach coaching skills to your managers, but it pays to be aware of the limitations as well as the benefits.

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