Why managers should manage, and coaches should coach

wrong way stop and take a uturn making a mistake turn back now bad direction graffiti on red brick wall, text and hand

In a recent article published by Forbes, Verne Harnish sloppily predicts that in 2016 the term “manager” should be discarded.  All companies should replace the role of manager with the role of “coach.”  What rubbish.  As evidence he cites only one example- that Zappos does so. Ignore this article because it is sloppy and inaccurate.  Why confuse the marketplace or denigrate both roles?


     Managers should manage; coaches should coach.


We need consistent terms for “managers” and “coaches” for at least these 3 reasons.


  1. Managers by definition need to maximize the productivity of others. Some hierarchy is mandatory, because the manager’s job requires writing a performance review and determining compensation. Read Peter Drucker, called the father of organizational development, on this point. The idea of maximizing productivity is as old as Diomedes. And as new as Marcus Buckingham. The role requires that managers work in private to coach others, but that skill of coaching should never replace the role of coaching. Perhaps the best model for describing the complex role of managers is Henry Mintzberg’s Managing (2011), which should be required reading for any serious managers, or any student of management theory and practice.
  1. Coaches, by definition, support others to achieve their personal and professional goals.  The agenda is defined by the client/leader, not by a coach or anyone else.  The process of coaching varies, from a competency approach defined by the International Coaching Federation  to a theoretical construct such as positive psychology (the best example is here).  In executive coaching, there is a validated need for both internal coaches who expedite the careers of HiPos, and external coaches who provide customized leadership development for senior leaders.  None of these coaches are managers.  However, managers are often tasked with coaching their direct reports. See point 1.
  1. Confusion abounds in many learning organizations, especially those that are dominated by fear. We do not need any sloppy terminology. Coaching was once an activity designed to remediate some undesirable behavior. Not any more. Coaching now is a targeted behavioral investment. For instance, I collaborate with internal leaders who provide succession planning data, performance reviews, 360 or personality assessments. As an external coach, my role is to accelerate the agenda of senior leaders. There is no better investment in top talent. Retention increases 18 months on average. For an example of the largest global provider of executive coaching, visit CoachSource. We provide scale for any-sized organization, in 45 countries, with over 1,000 expert executive coaches.   Results should define your investments, not any silly claims.

Bottom line: Avoid sloppy terms. Call managers what they are. Call coaches what they are. Invest in talent development.


To learn more, call Doug Gray, PCC, at 615-905-1892 or schedule your complimentary, confidential session here .

What are you waiting for?


My coaching guarantee

Since 1997, I have provided an unconditional guarantee on coaching services from Action Learning Associates.

There is no “fine print.”

If you are not happy, then I do not want your money.

With many clients, I offer a coaching for results guarantee.  If we agree to work together, and you do the work, then you can pay me at any time.  I guarantee high value.  To date, after hundreds of clients, 100% of them have paid for their coaching services.  Some agreed to pay a lesser amount than we had expected.  Some agreed to pay more.  Virtually 100% found the coaching to be valuable.

Here is why I provide that guarantee.  When I was in high school I had two paper routes.  And I worked at a warehouse after school.  And I cleaned windows and did lawns in the neighborhood.  One neighbor wanted the windows cleaned.  I said, “Yes of course.”  It took about two days.  Imagine sweaty grimy paper towels and windex.  Three stories of filthy windows.  Midsummer heat.  I was tired… but I did my best to do the job.  When the neighbor asked how much to pay me, I countered with, “Let me ask you two questions and then we will likely agree on a number.”

The first question was, “Were you delighted with the service I provided and would you hire me or refer me if the need arose again?”  She said yes.

The second question was,  “What was the value of this service for you?”  She said a number that was higher than what I expected.  I said thank you.

That was in 1981 or so… and I have used that process ever since.

Recently I learned that Marshall Goldsmith, a premier executive coach, uses a similar model when coaching for results.  Here is that model:



Our coaching tracks the proven eight-step process:

  1. Select the appropriate coach
  2. Measure baseline performance
  3. Identify areas for skills development
  4. Formulate a custom training regimen
  5. Secure stakeholder buy-in
  6. Implement the training regimen
  7. Follow up with stakeholders
  8. Measure results
I like this model and this list.  There are no “fine details.”  All about coaching for results.
So, are you ready to work together?  Give me a call now.