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Managing vs. Coaching: What’s the Difference?

There’s a widespread misunderstanding of what coaching entails and how it’s different from other disciplines. In a previous CONNECT2Lead Blog post, we examined the differences between mentoring vs. coaching. In this post, we’ll look at managing vs. coaching. Next up, training vs. coaching. All four are unique, requiring different skills and producing different outcomes.

Graphic Showing Making Decision and an Angel and a Devil WhisperingKnowing the differences will help you identify opportunities for your own skills development. Your awareness will also help you choose the best approach with each employee, depending on their own needs and the situation. Once you’ve got the ability to respond in all four ways, you’ll become more effective in getting more from each employee while also helping each one to continually develop. 

What Managers Do 

Surprisingly, many with supervisor or manager titles fail to do the things that managers are supposed to do, including:

  • Setting goals, expectations, and performance standards
  • Providing resources
  • Conducting informational meetings
  • Giving recognition and rewards
  • Delegating new tasks and responsibilities
  • Focusing on attainment of goals

Neglecting or shortchanging those critical functions of a manager compromises the effectiveness of an entire team. If widespread across an organization, this can result in high rates of turnover and burnout. 

Managers often don’t manage because their role has been poorly defined or they haven’t received training in supervisory skills. They’ve been promoted internally as a reward for good work in an individual contributor role. They use the same skills in their new role, becoming super producers instead of people managers. 

Without knowing how to use the tools of management, many rely exclusively on positional power and become micromanagers. Some focus on output alone, doing the same job they used to have and competing with the people they manage. Others see themselves as servant leaders and attempt to do others’ work for them.  

When teaching others how to do the work, under-skilled managers primarily step in as mentors. They show and tell others what they’ve done in the past. They demonstrate what to do, often doing the work themselves as they show others how it should be done. Too much of this undermines others’ confidence in themselves and causes them to lean more and more on the manager. 

Skilled managers delegate and use other tools of management to get work done through other people. 

What Coaches Do   

Coaching is not the same as mentoring! Yet many perform mentoring activities and call it coaching. That leaves a gap because true coaching is never provided. 

Unlike mentors and managers, coaches: 

  • Ask questions to extract information and promote self-discovery
  • Actively listen and play back key information for critical reflection
  • Facilitate goal-setting and action planning for skills development
  • Empower the coachee to lead his/her own development 


Managers have to mentor at times because they have superior levels of expertise that need to be shared. There are other times, though, when bona fide coaching would be a better way to support an employee. 

Mentors have skills and knowledge related to the functional role. Coaches have skills and knowledge related to getting people thinking for themselves, making plans for their own development, and finding ways to work through obstacles independently. 

Managing and mentoring are suitable for addressing short-term needs. Getting today’s work done today warrants manager or mentor responses. Preparing people for their own long-term success and ability to work autonomously is better accomplished with a coach approach. 

Managing vs. Coaching: Can a Manager Be a Good Coach?    

Most managers can acquire the skills needed to be effective coaches. Chief priorities among the essential skills are listening actively and empathetically, asking open-ended questions that aren’t intended to steer the conversation, observing objectively, and seeing undeveloped potential in others. 

There are two obstacles that prevent many managers from becoming good coaches. To be effective as a coach, you have to set aside your authority and standard managerial approach. You also have to prioritize an employee’s long-term development over short-term results. 

You’ll have a hard time becoming a good coach if:

  • You enjoy jumping in to solve problems or demonstrate how the work should be done
  • You like telling your own war stories
  • You expect others to do the work the way you do it
  • You can’t or won’t make the time for facilitating self-discovery
  • You won’t invest in learning, practicing, and perfecting the skills needed for coaching


This chart illustrates the responses of a Sales Manager compared to the responses of a Sales Coach. Similar comparisons could be made between any managing vs. coaching encounters. Notice how the responses reflect the priorities of managers vs. coaches. 


Manager Response

Coach Response

The seller missed a major buying signal. The sale is at risk because she’s not closing.

Every sale matters! Redirect the conversation and go back to the buying signal to close. 

Noted. After the call, will debrief to promote seller awareness and learning. 


The seller has missed goal 3 of the past 4 months. The pipeline is not being filled with new, qualified prospects. 

Performance plan and a stern reminder of the expectations related to the new business development standards. 

Questions to identify real and perceived barriers. Brainstorm with seller about options for turning this around. 


The seller is struggling to put together a solid proposal based on the buyer’s needs.

Suggest appropriate product mix and get marketing involved to provide research.

Questions to check seller’s product knowledge and build confidence/skills in this area.


There are appropriate times, of course, to manage. This is not to suggest that all management activities should be replaced (or even could be replaced!) by coaching. 

For employee development and retention, though, there needs to be a balance. Situationally, there are times when coaching is the better solution. Individually, some employees will respond more to coaching than managing encounters. Others, especially new hires, will more often need a management response.

Broadly speaking, coaching is usually the best response when there is an opportunity for employee development. Performance issues are best addressed with the tools of management, e.g. setting clear expectations and providing 3W feedback.

When a manager already has a goal in mind for an employee, there’s no point in asking the employee to formulate a goal. That’s inauthentic and a waste of time. In this case, the manager should simply convey the goal. 

But when a manager can allow for flexibility and input, coaching is the better choice. Employee development is one of those areas. The employee should have a major say in what skills to develop and how for their own future career growth. As a coach, a manager can facilitate this conversation to support the employee’s crafting of a goal and action plan to reach it.