Are you coaching or managing? Three ways to tell

Oct 17, 2019 |Posted by Jared Simmons | Coaching

What does coaching mean to you? Does it mean the same thing to your manager/employee?

Managers have a tough job. They’re responsible for ensuring that a business’s most unpredictable resource consistently delivers “value” to the organization. This is critical to the success of the company, its shareholders, and its employees. Management activities ensure these interests are being served–that the investment in employees delivers a return for the company. These activities are important, but they are not coaching. Providing “coaching” has become a catch-all phrase for a wide variety of manager-employee interactions.

Management activities often mislabeled as “coaching”

  • Telling an employee what to do
  • Informing an employee of the impact of their actions
  • Recapping previous conversations or requests


These activities are necessary at times, but it is important that we see them as management activities–not coaching interactions. They protect the company’s investment but do not directly improve performance. Here are three ways to tell if you’re actually coaching (or being coached).

How to tell if you’re actually coaching (or being coached)

Coaching interactions start with the skills, experience, and intentions of the employee. They are about understanding how a person works, why they work the way they do, and finding ways to be helpful in making that process more effective in their current job. Management activities start with the needs of the business and experience of the manager and find ways to drive compliant actions.

Coaching interactions are hands on. Think of the piano teacher joining a student at the keyboard or a dance instructor performing movements along with the students. Coaching is real time and collaborative. It comes from deep mastery and expertise in the fundamentals. You have to get involved. You have to have a deep understanding of the fundamentals of your employee’s job to coach. Management activities are, by definition, separate from the work itself.

Coaching interactions occur in the context of actual work. This is a key distinction between coaching and training. Offer to get involved in their process by collaborating on drafts. Give input to a meeting agenda, research plan, or presentation before it’s shared instead of evaluating the finished product. These interactions make an employee better–more effective today, better able to independently examine and improve their work in the future, and better coaches when they become managers. Management activities occur outside of the work process itself.

Coaching vs. Management in action

  • Coaching: Reviewing an assignment that didn’t meet expectations together, highlighting areas for improvement and offering concrete examples for how it could have been done better. Reinforcing the aspects of the work that were done well and should continue to be done that way.
  • Management: Communicating that the document did not meet expectations and setting a new deadline for a revised version.


  • Coaching: Scheduling time with the employee to work on an upcoming deliverable together–line by line–role modeling the level of thinking needed to construct a clear, persuasive document while also learning more about how they think.
  • Management: Assigning a deliverable to the employee with a clear due date and checking in periodically on progress.


As employees, we must ask for coaching and clearly communicate what it looks like for us. As managers, we must fight that voice that says we’re too busy and lead with coaching in these situations. There’s always time to take a managerial approach later if it fails. And if you aren’t comfortable enough with the fundamentals to coach your team, find someone who is and create that connection for the employee. It will serve you both better than jumping directly to managing activities in the long run.

Why it matters

Coaching transforms performance and deepens trust. It improves business outcomes by empowering employees to do their best work. It is 100% incremental to management. And here’s the best part: the more you coach, the less you’ll have to manage. So the next time you offer an employee some “coaching,” make sure you deliver on that promise!

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Jared Simmons

Jared is the founder of Outlast Consulting LLC, a consulting firm that helps individuals and organizations with strategy, process improvement, and professional development. He is an engineer by training with experience in market research, product development, innovation, management consulting, and strategic planning at P&G, McKinsey, and Coca-Cola.


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