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When Should Managers Coach Employees?

Coaching is just one tool that a manager must use to be successful. Used in the right situation at the right time, coaching can make the life of a manager immensely easier.

Countless surveys and studies have shown that employees become discouraged when they don’t get three things from their bosses:

  1. Help or support
  2. Praise or recognition
  3. Vision or strategy

Coaching is a perfect mechanism for managers to provide each of these crucial elements of the employment experience so that people stay longer and perform better.

What does it mean to coach an employee? 

Our definition of a coach is someone who helps another person reach higher levels of effectiveness by creating a dialogue that leads to awareness and action.

The goal of the entire coaching process is to lead to higher levels of effectiveness. This is important to keep in mind, because coaching is not a quick-hit tool. It takes time, has a laid-back pace, and usually requires a manager to stop what they are doing and focus completely on the employee and the coaching situation.

When does coaching an employee help the most?

Conversely, a manager will end up extremely frustrated if they try to coach employees who need something else from their manager, whose situations do not call for coaching, or who flat out don’t want to be coached. Learning how to recognize when and when not to coach is just as important as learning how to coach.


Employees need coaching when they are experiencing problems with Attitude (motivation, confidence, energy, focus, determination).

Good indicators of a coaching situation are things like:

  • when a person is experiencing trouble completing a job that they should already know how to do (i.e., there is no Aptitude issue)
  • when a person has gotten themselves completely wrapped around the axle about a certain situation
  • when a person needs help dealing with the frustration they experience because they do not have the resources needed to complete the task at hand

3 Potential Coaching Situations

When an employee has the skills and ability to complete the task at hand, but for some reason is struggling with the confidence, focus, motivation, drive, or bandwidth to be at their best, coaching can help.

Employees typically struggle because one of three things is in their way:

  1. Skills and Abilities—They currently lack the skill or ability to complete the task at hand; this relates to Aptitude

Does this require coaching? If an employee needs to develop specific skills and abilities, coaching is not the answer.

You don’t teach someone how to create a budget for the first time by asking them curious questions in an unattached manner! You teach someone a new skill by giving them the proper instructions for that particular task. If you tried to coach them, you would end up driving yourself crazy and your employee out the door.

  1. Themselves—They currently lack the motivation, focus, chutzpah, confidence, or commitment to complete the task at hand; this relates to Attitude.

Does this require coaching? You have a situation that is primed for coaching. You will want to create a dialogue that helps the employee become aware of what they are doing and then help them develop an alternative action that will lead to better results—in short, coach them.

  1. Outside Factors—They currently are being affected by things that are largely outside their control, such as not having the Available Resources, changing market conditions, ineffective vendors and partners (internal and external), or poor relationships with various stakeholders and colleagues.

Does this require coaching? Does the employee have the skills and abilities to effectively deal with the outside factors in order to be successful? If not, you may be forced into the teaching role. Does the employee have difficulty dealing effectively with the outside factors despite having the skills? If not, you can be reasonably certain that a coaching conversation will improve the situation.

Teaching vs. Coaching

Many situations are not strictly about a problem with a singular component of the Success Equation (Aptitude, Attitude, and Available Resources). Often, it’s a combination of two or three. The trick for managers is to be able to look at a situation and then use the right mix of teaching and coaching that is required to get the employee what they need.

Anne Loehr

Anne Loehr (Washington, D.C.) are certified executive coaches and cofounders of Safaris for the Soul, leadership development retreats in Kenya, Patagonia, and Iceland.

Brian Emerson

Brian Emerson is a certified executive coach and cofounder of Safaris for the Soul, leadership development retreats in Kenya, Patagonia, and Iceland.

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