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Coaching versus managing: What's the difference?

June 11, 2021 - 18 min read


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Coaching vs. managing: what's the difference?

What are the main differences between coaching and managing?

The 3 Ds of management and when to use them

Improving your coaching and managing skills: 7 tips

Great leaders know how to both coach and manage

The effectiveness of management and leadership coaching for executives is well-documented.

An increasing number of middle management professionals are also benefiting from management coaching.

Coaching on leadership management skills helps managers be more effective with their teams and peers. It helps them develop their confidence and abilities as managers in diverse and dynamic work environments.

Having well-coached managers with better skills helps organizations achieve their goals more quickly.

But these same managers more and more also need to take on the role of coach, not just manager or leader, for members of their own teams.

The shift may have left you wondering what the difference is between managing and coaching and when to use each approach.

Let’s take a deep dive into coaching vs. managing — their main differences, and when and how each is used.


Coaching vs. managing: Is there a difference?

According to Harvard Business Review, 70% of employee development happens through direct experience rather than formal training.

That means that as a manager, you’re responsible for giving your employees the support they need to develop professionally.

To do this, you need to use a mix of coaching skills and managing skills. 

A great manager knows when to use management techniques and when a coaching approach may be more appropriate.

But what do coaching and managing mean? Let’s take a look.


What is coaching?

Coaching refers to the ability to guide, assess, influence, and motivate your employees. Effective coaching increases their levels of commitment to their work and supports their growth and learning.

It also improves: 

  • Employee engagement
  • Performance
  • Autonomy
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Attitude

Coaching employees means collaborating with your team members. You guide them using technical and emotional support.

A coaching leadership style gives your team confidence and helps them change behaviors and attitudes that hold them back. It also assists in their professional development.

Here are some examples of situations in which to use employee coaching:

  • To improve employee performance
  • To increase employee engagement
  • To collaborate in long-term decision-making processes
  • To help an employee with their professional development
  • To provide constructive feedback

What is managing? 

Managing requires giving direct instructions and supervising the work of your employees or direct reports. This is different from coaching.

The goal of managing is to make sure employees meet their objectives within an agreed time frame. The focus is on the completion of tasks and achieving results.

To be a good manager, you need people skills, experience, and technical and decision-making abilities

You should also be results-oriented and kind but firm. Your performance is measured by your ability to achieve results.

Here are some examples of situations in which to use managing techniques:

  • Assigning tasks
  • Delegating work
  • Monitoring and evaluating progress
  • Training new employees
  • Making executive decisions
  • Meeting targets and deadlines
  • Solving problems and conflict situations
  • Responding to emergencies

What are the main differences between coaching and managing?

According to research, 94% of employees who like their bosses are passionate about their jobs. Conversely, 77% of people who don’t like their boss hope to leave their jobs soon.

Having a great manager is essential for employee satisfaction, performance, and retention

But what makes a good manager? 

An effective leader can lead from the front and give clear directions. At the same time, they instill confidence, self-esteem, and commitment in their employees.

A good manager should have coaching competency as well as core management abilities. This is because coaching and managing are complementary skills.

Let’s take a look at some of the key differences between the two.


1. Managing is directive and task-oriented

Managing involves directing and controlling the work of your team members. 

To do this, you must use your authority to make sure your team achieves the desired results and meets the agreed deadlines.

2. Coaching focuses on growth

Coaching aims to make employees feel valued and supported.

Coaching helps your employees develop positive behaviors and habits that improve their performance. 

A good coach teaches others to: 

  • Think critically
  • Find solutions to their challenges
  • Be autonomous in their work 

Coaching boosts employees’ confidence and makes them more motivated and committed.

3. Managing goes one way

When managing, the communication between manager and employee is one way.

The manager gives directions, monitors employee performance and progress, and provides feedback when necessary.

4. Coaching is a conversation

In a coaching conversation, communication goes both ways. 

The employee explains their goals and challenges. The manager guides, supports, and asks relevant questions.

5. Managing is effective for decision-making

Sometimes leaders need to make strategic or executive decisions, such as when managing a crisis.

These top-down decisions give clarity to employees. This enables them to carry out their tasks as required.

6. Coaching works for long-term development

Coaching focuses on professional development that helps both the employee and the company achieve their long-term goals.

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The 3 Ds of management and when to use them


As a leader, it’s essential to know when to use coaching and when to use managing. 

A useful framework to use for this is the three Ds of management:

  1. Direct
  2. Delegate
  3. Develop

Let’s take a look at each one in more detail.

1. Direct

Directing is a management activity. Leaders use it mainly when dealing with employees who have limited capacity and experience.

To direct, you must communicate clear expectations and explain to your employee exactly what to do and when.

Put the agreed tasks in writing for the employee to use as a reference. Give them concrete examples to help them understand what they have to do.

Examples of situations in which to direct:

  • When the employee is new at the company or starting a new role
  • When the employee receives new responsibilities or takes on a new client
  • When establishing a new strategy, plan, or way of working

2. Delegate 

Delegating is a blend of coaching and managing. Use delegation when dealing with a more experienced employee. 

When delegating, establish the objectives and procedures to follow. Allow the employee to decide on their own methodology. 

Monitor their progress, giving feedback when necessary.

Use delegation when:

  • The employee is confident in their abilities
  • They have the required competencies and experience
  • They are familiar with the methodology they need to follow

3. Develop

Developing is a coaching technique. Use it when your employee is highly competent and committed to their work.

In these cases, it’s not necessary to monitor them. Simply establish the objectives and general methodology and let them get on with their work.

Recognize their achievements when they complete a task and set new challenges that help them continually grow.

Develop people when they:

  • Have extensive experience and relevant competencies
  • Have experience with similar roles or clients
  • Are developing new skills or trying new approaches

Personalized development helps leaders and their teams thrive.

Improving your coaching and managing skills: 7 tips

The best leaders know how to blend coaching and managing skills to motivate and inspire their employees. Follow these tips to improve your coaching and managing skills:

Ways to improve your coaching skills


To be a better coach who can guide and support your employees in their work, consider these four tips:

  1. Be a better listener

Coaches practice active listening. It requires you to focus on what the person is saying instead of your own thoughts about the matter.

When they finish speaking, repeat what you heard back to them in your own words. 

This will help make sure you have understood them correctly. It also makes the other person feel seen and heard.

  1. Ask high-mileage questions

A high-mileage question gets your employee to open up and talk at length about the issue at hand. 

Avoid yes or no questions, as the answers will not provide enough information.

Instead, focus on questions that start with what, why, how, who, or when.

Encourage your employees to imagine new outcomes and possibilities by using questions such as “what would it look like if …?” 

  1. Be a source of motivation and support

Motivated employees who feel seen and supported are more engaged. Therefore, they will be more motivated in their work.

Instead of criticizing or blaming, boost your teammates’ morale by recognizing the value of their work. 

When you need to give feedback, make sure it’s constructive and focuses on your employee’s future growth. Avoid talking about any past mistakes.

  1. Model a growth mindset

Leaders must set an example by modeling the behaviors they wish to see reflected in their company culture. 

Encourage a coaching culture by holding space for your employees and allowing them to participate in decision-making processes.

Stay curious and open to all eventual possibilities. View challenges as opportunities for growth and improvement.

Ways to improve your managing skills

In order to be a better manager who can provide your team with the direction they need, consider these three tips:

  1. Be clear on your vision

Leaders are visionaries. If you want to lead people, you must have a clear idea of where you want to go.

This is crucial for successfully leading a team of any size.

  1. Be a good communicator

To manage people effectively, you must communicate directions and instructions clearly and concisely.

  1. Think strategically

Effective managers are those who can see the bigger picture. They know how to steer their teams through the day-to-day challenges to meet the organization’s objectives.

Great leaders know how to both coach and manage

To be an outstanding leader, you must combine management skills with coaching competencies.

It’s not about coaching vs. managing, but instead about doing both effectively and at the right time.

Doing both will help you get the best from your employees. They will be happier, more committed, and more productive. 

And if you need help brushing up your coaching skills, reach out for help. Contact BetterUp and start your coaching journey today.


Published June 11, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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