Obviously, there are professionals, like myself, who specialize in coaching people; but coaching skills are valuable for everyone – parent or CEO. As a leader, you will find yourself in the position of managing projects and staff – and needing to coach people. Therefore, let’s look at the differences between the two approaches and their suitability in different situations.

We’ll take a look in more detail, starting with some definitions.


Managing means organizing activities and resources (including people); giving direct instructions and supervising staff members’ work to ensure that they meet their objectives.


Coaching is about calling on, or building upon, someone’s resourcefulness, so that they can move towards their goals. It involves eliciting their knowledge, experience, thinking and problem-solving skills through a variety of techniques, including effective questioning.

As Sir John Whitmore put it: ‘Coaching is unlocking a person’s potential to maximise their own performance.’ (1992).

The International Coaching Federation defines coaching as ‘partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximise their personal and professional potential.’ (2013).

What’s the difference?

Managing is generally task-oriented and outcome-based. It is usually a more directive approach – telling people what to do, giving direction, or imparting information, usually in order to achieve goals.

Coaching is also goal-oriented. The approach, however, is quite different. Coaching draws on people’s own resourcefulness to help them solve a problem or achieve a goal. With coaching, there is a greater focus on someone’s learning – equipping them to achieve their goal – versus teaching. Coaching calls on a process of discovery, by developing great questions for people to answer for their learning and growth, as well as to further goal-achievement.

Management is more about seeking compliance and coaching is more about building engagement.

A coaching approach is another tool you can add to your leadership tool box. And like any tool, there are some instances when it is more appropriate to use a coaching approach. Of course, as in any situation, there will be exceptions.

Let’s look at some instances where each intervention is well-suited. 

When coaching works well is when you want to…

1. Solve a problem

Coaching is very powerful when you want to help a staff member think through a situation or problem for themselves. It is ultimately going to leave them more experienced and resourceful for the next challenge that comes up – making them an even more valuable contributor.

For example, let’s say a staff member comes to you with a question about how to approach a given situation. It might be anything – from an interpersonal issue to engaging a new client. This is a great opportunity to use a coaching approach. You will want to refrain from jumping in and providing advice right away. Instead, you can ask questions that will encourage them to come up with their own solutions: “What have you tried so far?” or “What’s your thinking on this?”

2. Build ownership

Coaching is useful for building ownership, particularly as it focuses on having individuals or teams develop their own solutions. A staff member feels more invested and empowered when they have worked something out for themselves.

E.g. When you want staff to engage in a project, you might say something like, “What do we need to do, to resolve this?” or “In your experience, how can we ensure the best result?”

3. Develop staff

Coaching is great for developing staff. In coaching, you are helping a staff member to find their own solutions. You are accompanying or facilitating someone to access their inner resources to find their own answers. Then, they become even more resourceful.

E.g. in giving feedback, rather than telling people what you think, ask questions like: “How did you think your presentation went? What would you do differently next time?” Use coaching in your formal performance conversations or review conversations, particularly when talking about learning and growth areas, or exploring challenges. You can also use coaching questions in any less formal meetings or career conversations: “What would you like to develop this year? What task forces would you be interested in participating in? Where would you like to go and grow this year?”

4. Monitor progress

You can also use coaching to monitor progress as you implement, to ensure that an initiative remains on track and receives any mid-course correction, as needed. Asking questions, and encouraging individuals and teams to come up with solutions can be powerful for ensuring that milestones are met and the initiative has the support required.

E.g. “How are things progressing against our expected performance indicators? Who else do we need to involve?” 

There will be times when a managerial posture may be more appropriate. 

When managing works well is when you need to…

1. Provide a specific answer

Coaching is less appropriate when a staff member approaches you and wants or needs information or an answer to a question. A managerial response or direction is more appropriate when specific information, guidance or training is required.

For example, when your staff member comes in and wants to know how to conduct a performance evaluation in your company, because they don’t have the information or experience.

2. Respond to an information request

When you need to provide information, such as the big picture, context and requirements, it is better to use a managerial approach.

E.g. when you want to outline specific performance expectations to your team, you would use a managerial approach rather than coaching.

3. Onboard new staff

When you have new staff, particularly those new to the organization, you may need to be more directive as you provide technical and onboarding information.

E.g. with a new manager, you will tell them introductory information about the company, workplace and their job during their induction, or give them training as required.

4. Manage performance 

While coaching is useful in performance reviews, a managerial approach will probably be more appropriate if you are have a second performance management conversation and need to elevate things. The chances are, you will need to be in the managerial space when some skills or information are evidently lacking or issues have not been resolved.

E.g. “We talked about your progress against targets last time. I think, now, that we need to look at some additional training…”

5. Introduce something new

When introducing a particular initiative, you may start out in a more managerial posture to provide information while outlining the high-level goals and performance expectations – particularly if they are being externally imposed. And, while you might revert to a coaching approach during implementation (as mentioned above), you may need to switch back to a managerial approach if or when there are any performance deviations.

For example, “This is what we need to do…” and “Progress is slower than expected, so we will bring in extra resources…”


Managing and coaching are both important interventions in helping someone grow and move forward, while achieving individual and organizational goals. Using a managerial or coaching approach can be more, or less, effective depending on the situation. But it is the ability to move seamlessly between the two roles, as necessary, that is the mark of a good leader.


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