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The stereotype of a manager unfortunately has a bad rep — one that involves yelling directives and demanding quality work without letting employees unleash their creativity. Yet the majority of managers don’t want to be seen that way, and don’t want to act that way either.

Most managers would prefer to exhibit qualities of a coach, rather than a directive leader, according to a recent survey by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of leadership development consultancy Zenger/Folkman. That means they prefer to let employees discover something rather than give them advice and they would rather act as an equal rather than as a superior.

Lofty Coaching Goals

But just because managers would prefer to act a certain way or be seen in a certain light doesn’t mean they’ll inspire greatness from their teams. Top management wants to act like coaches more than supervisors do, but in reality very few managers have the ability to be a coach, notes Tim Sackett of The Tim Sackett Project.

“Most managers who view themselves as coaches forget how much of an 'ass' their actual sport coaches were,” Sackett says. “They yell, they're demanding, they favor the best performers, etc. Is that how managers really want to view themselves? Probably not. But we have this altruistic view of 'coaches' as managers.”

There’s good reason for managers to want to create a flatter environment in which everyone’s contributions are recognized, yet many managers continue to give orders, shutting down an employee’s confidence and motivation to be creative.

“A really effective autocratic leader can be efficient and quick about getting things done. But something suffers in the process,” write Zenger and Folkman on Harvard Business Review. “People wait for orders. They stop taking initiative. Their level of engagement declines slowly — and often rapidly — as time progresses.”

One of the reasons that managers can’t take a more passive role as coaches often do is because they need to make sure employees get work done and that often requires giving lots of direction and guidance. While many coaches push players outside of their comfort zone, they are in an environment where that’s often seen as acceptable if the player brings home a win and then gets praised, Sackett notes. Unfortunately that same environment doesn’t exist in the workplace, so the coach approach simply isn’t transferrable.

Instead of making a complete 180 from leading directively to coaching, managers should take baby steps in empowering employees and letting them explore new ideas. If managers motivate their employees and show that they believe in them, Sackett says, they are likely to feel like a greater part of the team.

“The enormous value of coaching is what it does to develop people and create an ever more engaged and empowered team of employees,” write Zenger and Folkman.

Photo: Can Stock