What Makes a Great People Manager? Part 1: A Good Coach

"Put me in coach!"

Sorry, I just always wanted to say that but was never good enough at any sports to get a chance to do it as a kid. So I tried it out on you.

But this isn't what we mean by "coach" in our working lives.

Coaching seems to really have been popularized over the last few decades, but unfortunately it looks to have lost some of its original meaning and intention. One of the places I worked years ago, when someone used the word "coaching", most employees immediately got afraid because the word was synonymous with "getting in trouble" or "getting a talking to". It was never really a pleasant experience. I didn't really know what coaching was back then but knew it shouldn't be that.

What is Coaching Really?

Coaching is nothing more than helping others grow. It's that easy and that difficult.

Less than a quarter of coaching is effective!

Just imagine if it was better. If it was the opposite? It would change our organizations and our lives!

So Then What Does is Take to Coach Well?

Know Your People

What it basically means to help someone grow is that we have a trusting relationship with the people we are coaching. We have to know their strengths, their weaknesses, their goals, fears, anxieties, skills and the list goes on. So if we want to be great people managers, we have to be great coaches, and if we want to be great coaches, we have to build caring relationships with our people.


Ken Blanchard in One Minute Manager Meets the Monkey describes this best with his monkey analogy. If you haven't read the book, the basic premise is that problems, tasks and projects are "monkeys". And when we as coaches and managers take our people's monkeys, then we're enabling them, robbing them of growth and development and overburdening ourselves. It's a great way to teach and better understand delegation and ownership through using the visual of a "monkey".

Ken's message is one of delegation and empowerment but the same applies to coaching. Oftentimes the best development we can provide our people is owning work problems and projects. They grow from the experience and we have one less thing on our plate.

Ask Lots and Lots and Lots of Questions

As the coach at work, typically what people are doing is something related to task, function, solving a problem or taking on a project. So you're coaching will come in the form of questions rather than overt direction.

In his book, The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier shares 7 of the best coaching questions possible:

  • What's on you mind?

  • And what else?

  • What do you want?

  • How can I help?

  • What was most useful?

These questions are great because they keep the responsibility and action with your coachee and they require them to think, which is perfect, because that's how we all grow.

Be Right There With Them in Deep Practice

Dan Coyle discovers this thing he calls "Deep Practice" in his awesome book the Talent Code. Basically Deep Practice is when we focus intensely on pushing ourselves just outside our skill, ability and comfort zone and fail constantly and make small tweaks and adjustments to get slightly better each time.

So once your coachee has their plan, and after being clear they own it and have thought through possible solutions with the help of your questions, the next best thing you should do is be right there with them as they try it in action to help them make adjustments as needed. If for some reason you can't be right there with them, then have someone take your place, or make sure to follow up as soon and as quickly as possible to ensure the learning cycle is rapid and that reflection is always a part of the process.

Let Them Fly

Being a great coach also means we have to be secure with ourselves and seeing others succeed, potentially beyond what we ever accomplished. That can be a hard pill to swallow when we're the boss and we got there because of our skill, ability and accomplishments. But when you're a people manager, its about them now and your success is their success and vice versa. If our personal insecurities as a people managers hold someone else back, we both are losing.

The better you are as a coach, the greater performance you will bring out of your team. So keep practicing for your own and your people's sake. Go get 'em coach!

Moving on to Part 2

Part 2 will be about empowerment. This one is my favorite! But before we do please comment on your thoughts about coaching or share anything else that works for you.

Thanks for reading!


Devin Craig



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