Manager as Workplace Coach: Conflict of Interest?

Corporate leaders, managers, supervisors: Do you have a workplace employee, a direct report, with an attitude problem — negative, or sarcastic, or controlling, or non-collaborative, self-focused, etc …? Feedback from others tells you that it is affecting teamwork, morale, customer service, or the organization’s reputation?

After outlining with the employee how the behavior needs to change, you notice that the behavior persists. No changes. One manager decided that one such employee needed coaching and decided to be the coach.

Are you, as boss, the correct workplace coach for a direct report? Is it a conflict of interest?

You might think that you would make a great workplace coach for a direct report since you know the problem and interact frequently. Let’s think further.

Boss as Coach - Conflict of Interest Image by:ShinyRedType

Conflict of Interest

  1. With issues of attitude, will your employee honestly tell you if he doesn’t want to change? Or will he say he is trying when he isn’t.
  2. As you coach, will you become emotionally attached to your employee and let his attitude and behavior take precedence over the organization’s goals? “He has had a rough year.” “He or she is valuable anyway.”
  3. Even with specific goals for a direct report to improve/change within a certain time frame, will you be able to take decisive action if he or she doesn’t improve? Or will you question your coaching skill or struggle with the employee’s struggle?

It is possible to maintain your objectivity and be an effective coach. I have witnessed it. I have also seen managers (like the boss in the opening example) who decide to coach because they cannot make a decision about an employee who is in the wrong job.

If you have shown that you focus on the organization’s results and inspire/require positive action from all to get there, you may not fall prey to emotion and doubt. You know the difference between coaching and parenting and your employees will see the difference as well.

If this is not your strength, let someone else who is objective and unbiased coach your direct reports. (FYI:The employees would need to be aware that the coach will update you with progress reports.)

If you struggle with tough people decisions even with input from an outside coach, consider engaging a coach yourself. A coach will help you identify the underlying reasons you struggle with this and what to do about it. Your career will take on new possibilities as you discover more about yourself. From there, options will seem clearer and less daunting.

What are your thoughts on this topic?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™

©2011 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please first email for terms of use. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, customer service, customer experience, and teamwork. She turns interaction obstacles into business success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

10 Responses to “Manager as Workplace Coach: Conflict of Interest?”

  1. Ellen Weber says:

    Great question, Kate, and others will likely have better ideas, yet I’ll take a stab. It may be best to hire an outside coach – since the behavior did not change in earlier attempts and now may need a different approach.

    First trust will need to be established and then the coach will want to offer negotiated approaches that would be a different set of skills than are currently being used. On the other hand, an internal person who possesses what we call “brainpowered tools” for that task might well be effective if it’s agreed by all. There should be no extra remuneration given to a person’s supervisor and that may reduce the desire to coach internally, and motivate a person to get an external coach.

    Attitude problems or cynicism are hard to change as they are literally hardwired into people’s chemical and electrical circuitry. Takes motivation and skills to rewire:-) Thoughts?

  2. Interesting question. And like so many questions, the answer is “it depends.” In this case, so much depends on the skill set of the manager and his/her style. Some managers are natural coaches, they have the ability to be objective and can pull this off. Others are not good coaches in any circumstance and need to find others with this unique skill set to either develop the employee or if necessary recommend that the employee be cut from the team for everyone’s good including the employees.

  3. Very thought provoking, Kate. More and more service-based companies are moving towards a coaching environment. Logistically, it may be a challenge to have someone other than an associate’s supervisor be their coach. To be effective, the coaching feedback must be balanced between appropriate praise/recognition and honest feedback on areas where improvement is needed.
    I am of the strong belief that one chooses their attitude and there should be very little latitude given in this area. As Ellen said in her reply, it’s usually hard-wired, or as a former boss once told me “it’s in their DNA”. Great post!

  4. Kate,

    This is a tough question. No easy answer here. I think it depends on the relationship between the leader and the team member.

    I can think of examples where the leader should keep trying to adjust the behavior. I’ve also seen relationships that are totally void of any professionalism because both parties loath each other. In that case, an intermediary, coach or referee should be used.

    I tend to try and address issues myself, directly. But that doesn’t mean I won’t need a disinterested party in the future.


  5. Amie Crews says:

    Love this article Kate!
    I agree with all the comments made so far.
    I think there are so many opportunities for Managers to coach their direct reports through using coaching as a style of managing their teams. This, in my view, is not the same as embarking on a coaching relationship, through which the client/team member is prepared to share their deepest fears or emotions and working on them.
    Naturally some managers have a tendency towards a coaching style, through which they probably use this in 1:1’s etc and the team get the benefit.
    As a rule I would say that for specific coaching assignments, another coaching manager from a different department should be used, or bringing in an external coach.
    If the company operates an internal coaching service, this can really bring benefits as a low expenditure ongoing resource.

  6. Interesting conversation. There are two people most directly responsible for the direct report’s behavior: the direct report and their manager. Like Dan and others have said, it depends on the organization’s expectations and the manager’s talents.

    However, I would also submit that if coaching the employee is not the manager’s talent, or if the direct report might in ANY way doubt the manager’s motives, the manager has a problem that must be addressed. The best interests of the manager, the team and the individual must line up or the manager has a problem. If that were me, I’d be working on fixing it even if I had to bring in outside help until I learned how to coach better and sincerely help my direct reports be successful.

  7. Anne Egros says:

    Hi Kate interesting debate. I have been a manager for years and have been trained as a professional coach so I can see the differences. Coaching skills can be learned but I don’t think coaching people to overcome attitude and behavioral problem is the manager role. Managers train people, guide them, mentor them, clarify expectations and agree on goals, actions and performance indicators.

    Clearly if you are in conflict with one of your employees, you should not try to coach. Coaching requires trust from both sides and emotional connection. An external coach can hear personal problems, negative feelings and help the employees be aware of their behaviors and how they are perceived by others: manager, peers and their subordinates.

    The external coach can also assess that the problem is a miss-match between the boss leadership style and the employee ‘s personality, which is difficult for the manager to detect at his level.

    If the behavioral problem cannot be solved with trainings or specific actions, then it is easier for the manager not to be involved emotionally and take the best decisions for the company and his teams.

  8. Gary Loper says:

    Great question, Kate
    Far too often bosses, managers & entrepreneurs think they can do it all and it trying to do it all something else loses their attention and projects, people and missions falter. I heard recently that we need to stay within our gift zone, play to your strengths and bring in a team that can do the things well you can’t or would prefer not to do.

    The most successful businesses always have a great team so many skills can contribute to the whole and balance is achieved. Hiring an outside coach, trained in the areas needed for improvement is the most sensible decision.

    For a boss or manager try to do something they may not be well versed could have long term negative effects-objectivity, how others view how the situation is handled, personal feelings of resentment and that will be more costly than the coaching fee.

  9. JoAnn Corley says:

    Wow…what a question…and I’m sad to see it. My belief is EVERY manager must learn to be an effective coach. To separate out “managing” from coaching disjoints the rapport needed to build a respectful working rapport with a team and get needed outcomes.

    Coaching is a way of communicating- a style of relating. Coaching is not so much what you do, but who you are.

    Behind every great team is a great coach –

    • Bang on JoAnn! Too often managers see coaching as simply a process or set of skills you pull out when performance improvements are needed. It’s first and foremost a mindset – a way of communicating – whether that be a direct report, a colleague, even the person you report to – A 30-second exchange in the hallway, or a scheduled conversation.

      Yes, I do believe there are issues/situations where conflicts of interest do arise, and coaching by an external professional coach can be very helpful. But, this doesn’t relieve the manager of their need to continue communicating using a coaching mindset with that individual. Knowing when to utilize an external coach is the key.

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