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Anyone Can Be a Great Coaching-Style Manager – It’s All About the Fundamentals

By Bruce Tulgan,

Most managers become managers by first being great at something else: engineering, machining, you name it. If their employer is lucky, that person also happens to be a great natural leader, with that special brand of charisma and talent for inspiring others. But natural leaders are rare. The vast majority of managers are average people who have been given the added responsibility of leading a team, often without any formal leadership training.

Managing people is no small task. Managers who don’t view themselves as natural leaders may be tempted to let their management responsibilities slide, under the belief that they are just “not good at managing.” They may not believe they are visionary, charismatic, articulate, or energetic enough to really be good at the management part of their job.

While natural leaders may motivate and inspire others, that doesn’t necessarily make them good managers. Their energy and enthusiasm may result in distractions and complications, rather than results. While they may be able to inspire and motivate others, they may not be very good at helping others improve and succeed in their roles. Not everyone can be a great natural leader, but anyone can be a great manager.

The difference is that good management requires a daily focus on the more mundane aspects of leadership: providing direction and guidance, holding people accountable, dealing with failure, and rewarding success. These are the basic elements of management that are way too often missing from leadership today! And these are the elements that are by far the most important when it comes to creating a strong management culture, a key element of retention strategy today.

Still, many managers wonder: how am I supposed to provide guidance and direction, hold people accountable, or deal with failure, effectively and systematically? It’s all about saying the right words, at the right time, in the right way.

There are four basic elements of coaching-style conversations:

  1. Customized to the individual being coached: Different styles of communication work for different people. Everyone has different aspects of performance that need to be focused on. They all have unique habits, wants, and needs. The most effective coaching-style managers tune-in to those differences and use them as a guideline for their ongoing one-on-one dialogues with each employee.
  2. Focused on specific instances of individual performance: I often advise leaders to get in the habit of using describing language, rather than naming language. Like the running coach in the example above, it is so much more helpful when a manager gives an employee specific, concrete actions that can be taken to improve.
  3. Describes the employee’s performance honestly and vividly: The biggest mistake a manager can make is hold back on feedback for the sake of preserving the employee’s feelings. Of course, managers should never belittle or bully their team members. But they should also be fully honest and candid in their feedback. Again, using describing language, rather than naming language, goes a long way. Describe the performance you are seeing in concrete, vivid terms. Compare that to the performance you would like to see, based no the expectations you and the employee agreed on at the beginning of the project. Of course, this only works if you are taking the time to establish those expectations from the outset.
  4. Develops concrete next steps: The worst thing any manager can do is break down all the ways an employee is doing something wrong, only to leave them hanging at the end of the conversation. Don’t leave your employees in a sink-or-swim situation. Help them develop a solid plan of concrete next steps. Strategize and plan together. Building that type of support and trust on your team cannot be overestimated.

Mastering coaching-style dialogue is just one of the eight back-to-basics steps I’ve identified that any manager can take to become strong and highly-engaged.

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About the Author: 
Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as, an online training solution. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (2009; revised and expanded 2016) and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007; revised and updated 2010). He has also written for publications including the New York Times, USA Today, the Harvard Business Review, Training Magazine, and Human Resources. Bruce also holds a sixth-degree black belt in classical Okinawan Uechi Ryu Karate Do. He lectures periodically at the Yale University School of Management in New Haven, Connecticut, where he lives with his wife Dr. Debby Applegate, author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning biography The Most Famous Man in America: The Biography of Henry Ward Beecher(2006) as well as Madam: The Notorious Life and Times of Polly Adler (forthcoming).

About RainmakerThinking, Inc.:
RainmakerThinking, Inc. is a management research, training and consulting firm and the leading authority on generational issues in the workplace, founded and run by best-selling author and internationally recognized management expert Bruce Tulgan.

Since 1993, their research has included hundreds of thousands of participants from hundreds of organizations in a wide range of industries. RainmakerThinking continues to pursue three ongoing longitudinal studies: The Generational Shift in the Workforce (since 1993), Leadership/Management/and Supervision (since 1995), and Human Capital Management (since 1997).

Based on this ongoing research, RainmakerThinking has provided assessment, training, and consulting services for more than 400 different organizations ranging from the United States Armed Forces to Wal-Mart.

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