Be a coach, not a boss

Best practices to make coaching a powerful management tool

Updated over a week ago

Which management style should I adopt with my team? How can I help them to question their work the right way? How can I develop a proactive and autonomous mindset in my team?

It's all about your style. A boss gives directions, a coach asks questions.

A boss “knows” what needs to be done and demands action, not discussion or reflection. Unsurprisingly, when things don’t go as planned, this paternalistic way of managing people often translates into poor execution and low levels of autonomy.

A coach delegates, not only in execution but also in thinking. He guides, helps and decides when necessary but always leaves space for each team member to move forward on his own. Trust is given by default together with a clear mandate. The coach then positions himself as an available resource.

Coaching managers only have one priority: investing in the development of their team members to unlock their full potential.

Two tips to getting there: empathy and question asking.

The best coaches are empathetic managers who are able to question their own point of view.

They also know how to ask the right questions and aim to develop their team members’ ability to question themselves in their daily work. By doing so, they reinforce their autonomy and their acumen in the workspace.


  • When someone is stuck, it is much better to help them to ask themselves the right question rather than providing the solution

  • Having a less directive attitude as a manager means leaving space for your team members to take initiatives

  • Non-directive coaching is based on listening, the art of asking questions and the absence of hasty judgment - in a word, empathy

  • Beyond mindset, it may be relevant to rely on coaching models to help you structure your approach - such as the GROW model for example

* *



When coaching, adopting the right mindset is key, and it all comes down to one thing: empathy, your ability to understand and share the feelings of your team members. The best coaches are empathetic managers who don’t judge and are able to challenge their own viewpoint. 

Different styles of coaching exist but the best coaches are experts in non-directive coaching. Non-directive coaching is built on listening, questioning and withholding judgement: less direction from the manager is highly energizing for those being coached.

* *


The GROW Model

One of the best ways to get better at non-directive coaching is to try using the GROW model, created in the 1980s by Sir John Whitmore. 

GROW involves four action steps, the first letters of which give the model its name. It’s easy to understand, but it’s harder to practice than it seems, because it requires training yourself to think in new ways about what your role and value as a leader.

The four action steps are the following:

G for Goal

When having a conversion, the first step to coaching a team member is to establish exactly what he or she wants to accomplish right now and even more specifically, what the outcome of this particular discussion should be. A good way to start is to ask questions such as: “What do you want when you walk out the door that you don’t have now?”

Quote : "What do you want when you talk out the door that you don't have now?"

Even though it might sound strange at first, it will enable you to frame the conversation with the correct goal and set the tone for the rest of the session.

R for Reality

Next, the goal of the conversation having been established, ask your team member to describe his current reality. Often, people try to solve a problem or reach a goal without fully considering their starting point, and often they're missing some information that they need in order to reach their goal effectively.

Your job here is to raise the right questions and then get out of the way. Ask open questions - what, when, where, and who - to force focus on specific facts. As your team member shares facts about his current reality, the solution may start to emerge.

Quote : "What is happening now (what, who, when, anf how often)?"

Useful coaching questions at this step include:

What is happening now (what, who, when, and how often)? What is the effect or result of this? Have you already taken any steps towards in the accomplishment of this task/project/goal ?

O for Options

Team members often come to managers for coaching when they feel stuck. Your role as a manager is to help them think more broadly and to identify new options. 

At the beginning of a coaching session, people being coached can feel there is nothing they can do to resolve the situation or feel they are stuck with only one real option.

"If anything was possible, what would you do?" "What would happen if you did nothing?"

At this point, you need to broaden the conversation - asking open and naive questions can be a great way to get people thinking in fresh and productive ways. 

For example, questions such as “If anything was possible, what would you do?” or “What would happen if you did nothing?” can bring surprising results. Once new options are brought to light, your job is to guide them to deep dive on the options to gauge benefits, downsides and risks.

W for Will

"What will you do?"

For this last step, managers will usually need to step in as most people will need guidance.

First, ask “What will you do?”

If the conversation was effective, it will enable you to review an action plan in phase with the goal, reality and options you discussed earlier. If some parts are still vague, do not hesitate to go back to earlier steps.

The next step is to get your team member to commit to specific actions in order to move forward towards his goal. In doing this, you will help him establish his will and boost his motivation.

Ask when you need to review progress: daily, weekly, monthly?

Finally, decide on a date when you'll both review progress. This will provide some accountability, and allow to change the approach if the original plan isn't working.

Of course, workplace coaching usually takes place outside of formal coaching sessions. Often, coaching sessions will be improvised and brief but always leverage these opportunities to ask open ended questions rather than show and tell.

Wrap up: No longer can managers simply command and control. Managers need to reinvent themselves as coaches whose job it is to draw energy, creativity and learning out of their team members. The best way to do so is by sticking to an empathetic and non-directive mindset.

Did this answer your question?