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“In a fixed mindset the cardinal rule is: Look smart at all costs. In a growth mindset the cardinal rule is: Learn, learn, learn.” -Carol Dweck, Mindset


Somewhere in the early 90’s us leader-managers were informed that we need to start “coaching” our people. If you were like me you thought, “I do coach my people, I tell them what to do all day. My office is an open door, if they need me they know where to find me.”  Secretly, I was hoping coaching in the workplace was another management fad du jour that would go the way of quality circles – another “check-the-box” management obligation. Happily, I was wrong.

Coaching and developing in the workplace is not a nice-to-have, it’s now an expected leadership competency for managers (Gallup). Organizations who are successful at creating coaching cultures, versus the “rank and yank” (Deloitte) practices of famed Jack Welch, position themselves to attract and retain top industry talent. Fresh product and service innovations come from talented people and enlightened leadership, not just clever strategies.

In future blog posts I will share key structures and processes that provide the organizational support and measurements for a sound coaching culture. Hint: HR must be viewed and required to show up as a strong, aligned business partner.


7 Master Mindsets of Effective Manager-Coaches

  1. Coaching is a key talent management pillar. Top industry talent is attracted to organizations and leaders who provide skills training, rich development opportunities, and clear career pathways. Effective workplace coaching increases employee engagement and retention. Coaching says – “I care about you as an individual and want to provide you interesting work assignments that stretch and grow you.”
  1. Trust doesn’t exist without agreements and agreements don’t exist without trust. This mindset builds upon #1 by co-creating work pacts that are the pillars of strong ownership cultures. The manager-coach says, “I promise to offer you a rich work environment where your skills and passions can make a difference in the world. Do you promise to do what’s best for the enterprise and our customers?” No skin-in-the-game, no ownership. 
  1. Build trusted partnerships, not boss-subordinate relationships. Today’s multi-generation workforce, with their range of motivational drivers, requires managers to deeply know their people. Effective coaches view their coaching 1:1’s as their single most important driver of business. Why? Because “getting results in a way that inspires trust” is the definition of leadership (Franklin Covey, Speed of Trust). Skilled coaches help people link their values, goals, and aspirations with the organization’s; then operationalize these insights into customized development plans that serve both the individual’s aspirations and the company’s required performance outputs. Leadership guru Ken Blanchard calls these potent dialogues- partnering for performance conversations.
  1. Think like a coach, not a consultant. Many managers struggle with leaving their Mr. or Mrs. “fix-it hat” at the door. Problem solving is a core management capability, but a coaching liability. Your well-intended solutions rob your people of the effort required to solve their own problems. Great coaches, regardless of their discipline, understand the science behind “no pain, no brain” (Fast Company). Effective manager-coaches understand that building their people’s capacities to solve problems on their own is smart business insurance against future uncertainties.
  1. Great questions are the answer. Great questions achieve two important outcomes: 1) As mentioned in #4, questions require your people to to think, to struggle, and to gain awareness of how their current mental maps or beliefs are insufficient to solve their current challenges, and, 2) They help unearth current reality, helping ensure that agreed upon actions will have the maximum desired impact. In the book Execution, author Ram Charan declares, “execution is a systematic way of exposing reality and acting on it.” Leadership curiosity invites the input of multiple perspectives required to co-create sound strategy.
  1. Assume positive intent (API). People naturally desire to apply their passions and skills at work and to make a difference in this world. If you have people that don’t, you have problems to fix today. Customers aren’t kind to management indecision. API manifests itself in the leadership skill – Seek first to understand, then be understood (Franklin Covey, Seven Habits of Highly Successful People). Highly engaged manager-coaches have their finger on their people’s pulses to sense drifts in energy, attitude, and focus. Caveat – many people have never had a great manager-coach so be prepared for your people to charge you with “micromanaging.” Don’t get rattled. Be patient and explain the difference between micromanaging and effective managing. Follow the change management adage- “If leader’s don’t fill in the narrative, employees will do it for them.” Tell your people the story of how collaborative work partnerships are the path to personal and business success.
  1. Send strong signals of collaboration. Tightly linked to #2, manager-coaches seek to leverage and realize the power of collaborative relationships. At the leading innovation company, IDEO, leaders are deliberate in creating a strong “helping culture” that leads to extraordinary results. IDEO leaders understand that collaborative cultures are intentionally built, leveraging both informal and formal processes and roles. The effective manager-coach does not leave collaboration efforts to chance!


“Every action and feeling is preceded by a thought.” -James Allen


Manager-coaches who are consistent in applying the 7 Master Mindsets report the following workplace effects:

  • Higher levels of trust and professional respect
  • Increased clarity around strategy, tactics, and expectations
  • Stronger alignment among teams and across functions
  • Increased levels of accountability and productivity
  • Higher levels of employee engagement and retention
  • Less political noise and conflict
  • Fewer fires to fight
  • More time for long-term planning and innovation


Actions follow thoughts. Check out the resources page for additional information about how to effectively enact these mindsets in everyday work procedures.


Keep it simple. Keep it focused. Definitely keep it inspiring! –Steve