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Management Styles: Are You a Coach or a Doer?

Business coaching is an approach to management: how you function as a manager. Usually, managers approach their roles in one of two ways — coach or doer. A common feature of both management approaches is that managers have their own tasks to perform. Few ever focus solely on managing others. The key difference in the two approaches, however, is on where a manager focuses his or her attention.

The following are descriptions of how the two approaches generally function:

  • Coach approach: These managers work to achieve the best operational performance results by developing and maximizing the talents and abilities of employees to their fullest.

    Those who manage as a coach still perform tasks; in fact, many work alongside their staffs doing some of the same duties. Yet those who approach management as a coach recognize they also need to lead and develop others to top performance, because that's how the tasks best get done.

    Business coaches live by the principle of and; that is, they approach their jobs as a balance of managing both task issues and people issues. They see the two as connected. They see managing people as part of managing the work that the people do.

  • Doer approach: In this approach, managers tend to focus more on task issues of the job (and also the technical issues of their work), as well as on the group's performance. Their attention tends to go first to the things they themselves have to do and to the areas of greatest comfort — task and technical issues. Doers, as a result, tend to function as senior individual contributors.

    While the style of doers varies from controlling to very hands-off to a combination of the two, the doer approach to management tends to live by the principle of or. They have either task issues to handle or people issues to handle. These issues are often viewed as separate sides of the manager's role rather than interrelated ones. Doers put much less emphasis on how people are performing (which is often less comfortable to deal with) than on getting things done.

The following table offers an overview of the general tendencies that coach and doer managers exhibit when handling six of the most common management functions. (General tendencies mean just that; things don't work exactly the same way all the time.)

Approaches to Management Functions
Function Coach Approach Doer Approach
Planning Invests time in doing it. Has little time for planning ahead.
Often involves others in shaping plans. Tends to operate on a day-to-day or short-term basis.
Is future-focused. Often crisis-driven and putting out fires.
Goal setting Works with others to develop goals and plans to achieve them. If operates with goals, tends to give staff their goals — little employee involvement in developing their own.
Ensures that goals are written and expectations are clear, and then manages by them. Often tends to be activity- and task-oriented as opposed to results- and goal-driven.
Giving performance feedback Does so on an ongoing basis. Feedback is tied to what employees are doing. Seldom, unless something goes wrong, or gives occasional, vague praise.
Provides both positive and negative feedback so staff knows where they stand. May do so at annual review time.
Dealing with performance issues Addresses issues in a timely way with solutions-oriented approach Many avoid dealing with these issues. Is outside of comfort zone.
Works with employees to map out plans for improvement. May seek punitive measures as the first action to deal with problems.
Delegating Does so as much as possible to maximize resources and increase productivity. Finds letting go of responsibility to others hard to do and thus delegates little beyond simple tasks.
Provides necessary support, lets people handle the job, and holds them accountable. If willing to delegate, dumps assignments — gives little guidance and support.
Mentoring and developing staff Takes an active interest and involvement in employee learning and growth. Tends not to put much attention in this area.
Supports training and encourages opportunities to expand employee capabilities. Takes a learn-on-your-own approach to employee development.
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