Thursday, October 9, 2008

Are You a Manager, Leader, AND Coach?

In a study of over 1,000 mid-level managers, Professor David Antonioni concluded that the best middle managers juggle three seemingly contradictory roles -- managing, leading, and coaching. (1) Middle managers are those one level above supervisors and two levels below the CEO. Do you ever feel as if you’re stuck in the middle, keeping all those balls in the air? Professor Antonioni assures us that can be done.

The managers surveyed spend 75% of their time on day-to-day operations. Their typical management duties consisted of clarifying objectives, planning, organizing, monitoring, increasing productivity, and staffing. Because middle managers focus on operations, their top priority is keeping production up and fires out.

The second role these managers must play is leading. Leadership is about aligning strategies to the big picture, contributing innovative ideas for increasing growth, decreasing bureaucracy, inspiring the team to achieve, and being an advocate for change. Unfortunately, there’s often little time for leadership if one is always pouring over production numbers and running around putting out fires. In fact, research tells us that only 5% of the middle managers time is actually invested in leadership behaviors.

The problem with spending a mere 5% of the time leading is that the company misses the critical ideas that lead to organic growth. The world is too complex and fast-paced to rely on a few good men or women at the top to generate all the ideas needed to fuel innovation. None of us is as smart as all of us. Great companies grow from the inside out - from their core.

When middle managers take on the role of leaders, they become the midwives of effective change and innovation. The most successful middle managers are, in fact, “change masters.” Professor David Antonioni’s research and others’ tell us that these leaders implement change by doing the following:

1. Discuss the big picture and each of your direct report’s place in it.

2. Communicate the “why” behind the change to your team frequently.

3. Establish norms with the team that describe the behaviors and values that they believe support the change.

4. Identify the processes, policies, and procedures that must be modified to support your long-term change.

5. Manage risk by recognizing, categorizing, and mitigating the downside with input from others.

6. Experiment with small change before pushing for major implementation of the change.

Coaching is the third role managers need to play. Coaching is a partnership between the manager and the direct report to optimize potential. It is critical to employee engagement, retention, and commitment. Yet, only 15% of middle managers’ time is spent doing it. Managers fail to invest adequate time coaching because they don’t know how to do it well, don’t make the time, or believe that twice-a-year performance reviews are good enough. Could you imagine a sports coach providing feedback to her players as often as most middle managers do? Managers need to coach every day. Most coaching sessions only need to take five to 15 minutes. Here are a few ideas to help you improve your overall coaching role:

1. Observe. This first step in the coaching process requires you to gather information about your direct report’s performance. Observation could be as brief as catching errors in a report or as in-depth as interviewing others about major performance issues.

2. Analyze. Figure out what the employee is doing well, what needs to be done better, and the best approach for delivering feedback.

3. Inquire. Identify an area that your direct report is performing well and applaud their performance. Then ask them to help you understand why performance is lacking in the specific performance-related area. Contrast is how we see.

4. Provide feedback. Show your direct report how to perform correctly.

5. Set goals. Discuss and agree upon a specific goal for improvement.

6. Create a plan. Ask your direct report to create an action plan with specific steps for improvement.

7. Reward progress. Provide positive feedback for the little steps they make towards achieving the goal.

These are a few of the keys for adding leadership and coaching to your managing skills. How surprised will you be when others start calling you a manager who leads?

Keep on stretching,


1. David Antonioni: Leading, Managing, and Coaching, ‘Industrial Management,’ September 2000.

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