Managers confuse “coaching” and “micromanaging”

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I actually just recorded a whole video with my friend Terra about micromanaging, and then came across some new intel I felt compelled to share. BTW, surprisingly given how often I blog, I’ve only written about micromanaging once, and I think I was day drunk when I wrote it, so it’s not too good…

So now I come across this new article. It’s about a study of different managers being told to “coach” their employees, and what do you think happens? This is what happens:

The biggest takeaway was the fact that, when initially asked to coach, many managers instead demonstrated a form of consulting. Essentially, they simply provided the other person with advice or a solution. We regularly heard comments like, “First you do this” or “Why don’t you do this?”

I think this hits on a huge point that needs to be addressed.

What is actually valued at work?

OK, this is a trick question. We would say “productivity” or “stuff getting done” — much of work is truly about tasks — but the actual answer is “work is about control.”We will gloss that over for now, though.

The most successful people in white-collar work have a relentless, all-consuming focus on execution. Makes sense. That’s the stuff that gets you promoted eventually. Gotta be seen as a target-hitter and a doer. I get it. We’ve all been there. We’ve all seen it.

But “coaching” is a much different deal. It’s longer-term, it’s methodical, etc. You need to listen and give ideas, take feedback yourself, learn as you go, grow as you go, etc. It’s complicated. We sometimes lip-service it as a “fluffy” thing while we’re over here smothering KPIs with a pillow, but it’s important and nuanced. There aren’t a ton of great business coaches. There aren’t a ton of great football/basketball/baseball/track coaches either. It’s hard.

This is where the divide exists that explains the above quote. See:

  • Work is about execution and “stuff being done”
  • Coaching is about a longer-term listening relationship
  • When asked to “coach,” most managers default to “Here’s the answer, can we move on to checking the next box now?”
  • That’s all a lot of managers understand
  • Managers, thusly, often are not coaches

And honestly, the jury is out on whether they have to be. So long as work prizes box-checking and execution, we probably don’t even need coaching-friendly managers. It would be super nice to have, sure, but it doesn’t even line up with how those with true authority view the workplace, i.e. a series of financial acronyms and stuff getting done that they hope to never really have to try and understand.

Still, though, the concept of a bunch of MBA chest-beaters thinking they’re “coaching up the ranks” and instead going straight into micromanagement consulting hell is pretty LOL, if you ask me…

Blogging, largely about work and how to improve it. How I make (some) money:

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