Are you a Coach, Supervisor, or Deadbeat Parent?

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Think about most of the leaders that you’ve worked with….would you say that you’ve worked with more As, Bs, or Cs?

a) coaches

(They help you figure out what’s in your way so that you can make progress toward your goal.)


b) supervisors

(Unlike the helpers above, supervisors are more like accountability partners who make sure you do your job, i.e., status checkers.)


c) deadbeat parents

(They leave you figure out things mostly on your own, but they show up to take credit for your work or to tell you what you did wrong.)

_____________________________________________Is coaching part of your job?  Whether the responsibility is clearly stated as part of your job, once you become a leader, coaching is part of what you do. Besides, who wouldn’t want to be a coach since many of us have fond memories of coaches from a sport or activity we participated in long ago? Coaches have super powers, right? Interestingly, there is no universal standard for what it is or specifically how to do it. To make matters worse, it seems that anybody and everybody has added “coach” to their title or business card. 

So, what, exactly, is coaching? Simply, a coach helps you achieve your goals. The key is the “your goals” part. If the person being coached doesn’t have a goal, or if the goal is set for them, coaching is not likely to help them. The outcomes are worse if the person is forced into coaching. The most fundamental element of coaching is that it helps a client achieve their own goals. The work is predicated upon the idea that the person being coach needs help on “the how”, not “the what”.  If a person needs help on the what, they likely need help that is beyond a coach, perhaps a therapist. Finally, the process that a coaches is designed to help the person “discover” the best way for them to make progress on their goal. Coaching is about helping the client to reframe their perspective, viewing the situation with different eyes, trying or pondering varied approaches, and understanding their stumbling blocks. More than anything else, coaching is demonstrating progress toward the client’s goal. This is the core principle of coaching whether it’s life coaching, executive coaching, or coaching provided through a formal program at work.

Now, when you consider what you do at work when you’re engaging employees, are you coaching them, telling them what to do, or just hoping and praying that they’ll figure out something that is acceptable (and stop coming to your office)? 

Oftentimes, you’re told to coach or help your employees, but nobody tells you how to do it. To make matters worse, coaching is sometimes used a pre-disciplinary action tool; thus, completely undermining what coaching is. Discipline motivated fails because the goal has been set for the person being coached. Second, if it’s comes with a, “you better be fixed in six weeks” requirement, the elements of coaching that lead to confidence and self-discovery will likely be truncated and viewed with cynicism. You and the employee would be better served by owning the true nature of your interaction. 

On the other hand, you might want to actually coach your team members! To embrace coaching as part of your calling as leader is to be a better leader. It builds trust, strengthens your reputation for being able to have difficult conversations, and holds you, your organization, and the employee accountable for being aligned and consistent. If you are thinking about how to be better coach to your team, below are key Do’s and Don’ts.

On Embracing Coaching as Part of Your Leadership Philosophy:

1. Be clear about whether you’re coaching, giving feedback, or trying to intervene before starting the disciplinary process.

2. Commit time and money to your own personal growth and professional development.

3. Study how you’re going to balance coaching and your other tasks so that one doesn’t unintentionally eclipse the other.   

4. Don’t wing it: build processes and rubrics to guide and define how you work with clients.

5. Don’t set yourself up for accusations of favoritism and anticipate the various ways your actions might be perceived.

On Working with Your Team:

6. When you coach someone, explore their values. People are the same on and off the clock; they simply edit themselves in different settings based on their fear of consequences. If you’re coaching someone whose personal values are odds with the work, the organization, or the manner in which the work is done, you need to know that. 

7. Always clarify the why or the problem to be solved and continuously refer to it. Everything that you do must lead toward addressing these issues. Otherwise, coaching can take a turn toward just being a listening ear. Meanwhile, don’t forget that your title and authority have an effect on the coaching relationship and that trust needs to be developed. 

8. Focus on unearthing obstacles: what’s getting in your way? This is another strategy to move from venting and powerlessness to action. As a person clarifies the problem, they are better positioned to ask themselves what they are capable and wiling to do about it. Additionally, be prepared to hear information that speaks to how your overall team/operation is functioning. Sometimes obstacles involve organizational dynamics and polices, which might feel like critiques aimed at you. 

9. Let people have feelings, but pay attention to them. Notice what they are telling you, both verbally and through their non-verbal cues. This helps the person feel seen and builds trust. It also positions you to help them see their blindspots. 

10. Be careful about offering solutions; defer to asking questions so that the person owns the solution. Part of coaching process is to help the person SWOT problems on their own. This does not mean that you don’t ever give advice. You may have specific experience that you know will help; but you figure out a way to frame that information in a coaching context. Essentially, limited advice-giving, or helping people discover the solutions that are within them, is what makes coaching a tool that builds confidence (rather than dependency).

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