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MAC - Manager as Coach; or Split the Old Manager Role to Suit the People-Centric Future Workplace?

by Bob Larcher

Despite the reserve held by many about whether a manager can fulfil both the role of coach and boss to their team members, many organisations have started to deploy formal “Manager-as-Coach” (MAC) training and development programmes.

When I was a young manager in my late twenties, the only management (or maybe leadership) framework I had was John Adair’s famous three circles, achieve the task, build the team and develop the individuals. Although my various teams had things to achieve, my interest was clearly in building teams and developing individuals, this was, for me, the road to achieving the task.

As much as I enjoyed (and still enjoy) histograms, spider charts, KPIs and the like, what fired me up the most was seeing others grow.

I myself had been given much responsibility as a young industrial chemist and it seemed to me that this was what management was all about; my managers were not always on my back double-checking what I had done but were always available to challenge my ideas.

I had, somewhat naively, imagined that all of those in manager positions were like myself; there because they believed in people. However, when in my mid-thirties I moved into personal development and then management training, I discovered that this was clearly not the case.

I struggled in my early days as a “management trainer,” working with managers who had little real interest in people development; they were not nasty or aggressive, in fact, they were often great people – but had little or no interest in the personal growth of their team members. We can call them boss-managers.

Even today, some 30 years later, the proportion of managers that I come across who have both real interest in their people and a real desire to help them grow and progress is still very low. Those who are capable of oscillating between collaborating and controlling, empowering and delegating, listening and talking and telling and asking, i.e., between a coaching and a more directive managing mindset, are even fewer.

Coupling the above with the understandable reserve of staff to open up to their manager in a way they would with an external coach. If the existing relationship has tensions, the scope is somewhat limited for MAC to be successful. No matter how good at coaching a manager might be, it is undeniable that s/he has significant power over the coachee.

An answer to this problem is in equipping managers who have in-depth knowledge of the organisation and an interest in people development with “helping or facilitating skills” such that they can take a more “coach-like” approach when problem-solving within the organisation while maintaining external, independent coaches and facilitators who are experienced (as well as trained) in helping people grow in areas such as Emotional and Social Intelligence.

Not all managers want to coach. An organisation can function more efficiently with “subject matter expert (SME) managers” who concentrate on defining the goals and quality controlling the outcomes, maybe for a number of teams. Combined with “coach managers” who facilitate team building, workshops and the like, again across a number of teams.

This has the advantage of accessing people's intrinsic motivations and aligning them with organisational goals and enjoying the ripple effects of that alignment. Effects include high engagement, high agility, high diversity and inclusion, high responsibility, low turn-over, to name a few of the beneficial human effects. While at the same time resulting in reduced personnel costs, estimated at >15% reduction of total salary expense by optimising (splitting) the old manager role to better suit the human condition for both managers and team members.

If you would like to know more about how we, at PCO, can help you implement a more people-centric organisation for higher business results:

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