Teacher vs. Coach – II

Shortly after the 1st edition of The 8 Essential Skills for Supervisors & Managers was published I posted some thoughts about one of the important roles you fulfill in the course of your work – Teacher and Coach. Based on the number of times that term gets searched on the blog, maybe it’s time to explore that a bit more.


As a manager we can work with people whose skill level and job knowledge vary considerably. Particularly when the employee is new to the organization or your team, you are likely to be in a Teacher mode. You are teaching when orienting them to the team or the job; you teach them about the culture of the organization and the group. What do they need to know in order to be effective in their specific job and as part of the team? You teach them about the standards and expectations for performance, quality, communication, attendance, participation, and how much freedom they have to make decisions on their own. You make sure you give them plenty of feedback as they learn and progress. Once they demonstrate the appropriate level of competence in the basics of their job, you can shift toward more of a coaching role.


The role of a Coach is different from that of a teacher and involves a different set of skills. At the highest level it requires a well-developed sense of awareness about each employee’s talents, skills, and needs. Knowing when an employee needs some encouragement and positive encouragement versus when they might need corrective feedback or bit of refresher training can involve some subtle differences. Asking open ended questions can help lead the employee to figure out what needs to done without you “telling” them what to do. Once the employee has successfully mastered the basics of their job you can increase the level of involvement they have in managing themselves. Obviously that doesn’t happen right away; you want to empower them but must do so purposefully. Beware the “aimlessly empowered!” Of course the two sides of this coin are not mutually exclusive. You will likely move back and forth on a continuum between teaching behaviors and coaching behaviors. What do you think? Are you teaching and coaching your people? Do you have a firm grasp of when to teach and when to coach with each personal on your team? PS – for a great take on the difference between Coaching and Feedback, see what executive coach Mary Jo Asmus has to say on the topic. You’ll find an excellent post on her blog at Aspire-cs.com. As she points out, Coaching is future-oriented while Feedback is focused on what has occurred in the past. She says, “In the end, coaching is about ‘letting go’ of advice-giving and assuming the person being coached is whole, smart, and understands the best direction to head in.”  Good advice from one who knows.

As a manager, how adept are you at knowing when it’s time to shift from Teacher to Coach?



What Did You Learn?

What did you learn from each of your previous bosses? Maybe you worked for one of those rare “natural” supervisors or managers. I’ve met a few, but they are few and far between. Most of us who have worked inside organizations have worked for a series of bosses. And we probably had no difficulty finding things about their style that bugged us, frustrated us, even made us angry from time to time.

But at the same time, looking at it from the rear view mirror, I bet you also learned some valuable lessons from each of them. I know I did. Some of those lessons were positives – things to emulate, copy, and modify to fit me. And some were negatives – things to not do when faced with a similar situation.

One of my first bosses was The Chief. He was a Master Chief Petty Officer in the U.S. Navy and was the lead admin for the Supply Officer on my ship. He’d been in the Navy about 25 years and had risen steadily to become one of the senior people in his logistics specialty. Since our ship had one of the first on-board computers in the Navy (a Univac 1500 that took up a lot of room and was one of the few air-conditioned spaces on the ship), we were dealing with state-of-the art in some ways, and very old technology in others. Remember 10-part carbon paperwork?

From The Chief I learned precision and the importance of doing the job to the best of my ability. He also served as a role model of how to handle a difficult boss who had spent his entire career on shore duty. When we were at sea, the Supply Officer spent the whole time holed up in his cabin, alternately hollering at somebody over the ship’s phone and bouts of throwing up .

Some years later I worked for a boss I’ll call Sam. I was running an organization-wide system with multiple locations and nearly round-the-clock operations. From Sam I learned the value of building effective cross-departmental relationships and the wisdom of seeking multiple opinions and perspectives before making major decisions. My mid-20’s shoot-from-the-hip, get-it-done-now style sometimes backfired on me, particularly when I failed to identify key stakeholders and give them a “heads-up” regarding plans. Sam showed us all how to lead a diverse (and often highly competative) group of department heads in a positive direction by “communicating lavishly,” to use a favorite Max DePree quote. Sam knew where we were heading, kept us all in the loop, and ran interference with other senior leaders when necessary. Quiet leadership, practiced daily.

Those are just two of the people I learned from. What did you learn?

Think about what you’ve learned from some of the people you’ve worked for over the years. If you’d like to share a thought or two, that would be great. If not, at least think about it.

A Bit More Buzz

Writing The 8 Essential Skills was certainly an adventure. Producing and promoting the book is turning out to be another adventure. Colleague, coach, and friend Mary Jo Asmus recently interviewed me about the book and posted portions of the interview on her blog. Wally Bock, who writes the always-interesting Three Star Leadership blog, is a regular reader of Mary Jo’s writings, spotted the reference and requested a review copy. Now we’ll see what Wally thinks.

Skill 4 – Managing Others

Learning to manage others is at the heart of becoming a successful supervisor and, frankly, it has very little to do with filling out an annual performance appraisal form. Effective management is the cumulative result of your daily interactions with those you supervise. And that is where real leadership in management is demonstrated every day. Ultimately, you aren’t going to be able to lead your team effectively unless you’re adept at managing the performance of the people you supervise.

What do you think? Of the 8 Essential Skills this one – Managing Others has to be part and parcel of being an effective supervisor and manager. What do you think is involved in Managing Others? How do you get good at it and how do you teach new supervisors how they can get good at it?