A Good Boss is a Good Coach

“Leadership is less about having the right answers and 

more about having the right questions.”

                      ― Michael Hyatt

When it comes to being an exceptional leader, there’s one behavior that stands above the rest. Extensive research, including Google’s Project Oxygen, clearly proves that the best leaders are also coaches. So what does it take for a manager to become a great coach? We believe there are five behaviors that drive success and a few that can hold you back.

Five Behaviors that Make a Manager a Coach:

1. They Use Coaching Skills

The days of command and control leadership are over. Today’s successful leaders practice active listening and asking powerful questions. They speak less and listen more. And, they ask more and tell less. Motivating employees is no longer based on fear and retribution, instead it is focused on developing team members by empowering them to succeed. 

The International Coach Federation, which is the governing body for professional coaching, has identified eleven core coaching competencies, which define what it takes to be a great coach and to leverage their own coaching skills for success. 

2. They Are Empathetic

There are three things everyone wants:  to be heard, to feel valued, and be connected to others. Successful leaders know how to show they value and care about their team members. In fact, a recent ‘Harvard Business Review’ article points to how important empathy and connection-building are in successfully coaching employees. When employees think you understand and have put yourself in their shoes, or at least care, they are more likely to accept  criticism and put it into action.

3. They Give Feedback

You might be surprised to know how much your opinion matters with your employees. Even if they don’t ask–they care. Knowing how and when to give effective feedback is a critical coaching skill.

Feedback runs in both directions: both positive affirmation and constructive criticism, and Gallup has identified that employees are three times more likely to be engaged in their job, if they receive feedback. This one element has the power to bring sideline employees into the game.

That said, they’ll care even if they don’t ask—and sometimes they’re afraid to ask. So anticipate that natural concern and curiosity by proactively offering feedback.

4. They Remove Obstacles

 Even the best employees occasionally find themselves in a tough spot, and while some can power through, others might need a little help. Managers who coach are able to spot these obstacles because of their connections with their employees and can help remove them, whether they are mental or actual. In 2017, Forbes wrote that heading off obstacles allows for employees to perform at peak productivity.  Managers with this approach have real, authentic conversations and are able to push by caring and challenging at the same time.  

5. They are Focused on the Team’s Success

As the saying goes, “There’s no I in Team.” Great coaches know when their team wins–they win. They know how to recognize good work and give credit. They also know how to fix breakdowns without placing blame on others. 

Three Things that Hold a Manager Back from Coaching Effectively

1. They Don’t Trust Their Team

Obviously, it’s tough to be a coach and put your own sweat into someone else’s success if you don’t trust them. The underlying assumption in our three traits that make a manager a great coach, is trust, and this is something Google addressed in Project Oxygen. 

2. They Take the Coaching Thing Too Far

When we say coaching, we don’t mean micromanaging, which is a huge turnoff to employees, especially productive ones who truly care about the mission of the team. While a micromanager may think he or she is making their team more effective, according to this Reader’s Digest article in their Work and Career section, employees become preoccupied with, not only doing the job, but doing it as if they were their boss. This slows them down, makes them less efficient, and robs them of satisfaction in their work.

3. They Play Favorites

No one likes to be on the receiving end of this one, but it happens more than perhaps any of us would care to admit. A manager who truly cares about being a good leader may dive into the coaching element of his or her job, but when this coaching becomes noticeably uneven over time or disproportionately promotes the interests of one employee, it’s favoritism.

Most employees will go through stints of needing more help, and that’s ok. But if you’re a manager, resist the urge to coach more the employee with whom you feel most comfortable, whom you see most of yourself in, or who you see as the greatest asset. All of your employees need your time.


As we’ve seen, the workplace needs good coaches, and true coaches become recognized as valued leaders who inspire the respect and thanks of their peers and employees.