“All coaching is, is taking a player where he can’t take himself.”

– Bill McCartney, American Football Coach

At some point, “manager” became a bad word. Maybe it was Dilbert, Office Space, or our first bad job as a teenager. I remember the first time I became a manager of a decent size team. I was 24 and took over an inside sales team. It was a total train wreck. My concept of being a manager was just plain wrong. I thought it was about being in control, ruling with an iron fist, while trying to be on people’s good side and hopefully their friend. It was one of the more painful experiences of my career. I wish someone had told me to “be a coach, not a manager.”

Organizations need more coaches, not prototypical managers. We live in a time when people don’t do what they don’t want to do. The time of worshipping the hierarchy of an organization is over, and so is the time of traditional managers. If you want to realize your full potential as a strategic leader, you have to build your coaching muscle.


What does it mean not to be a manager, but a coach?

Much of management is about having the right mindset and orientation towards people. Think about the best coach you ever had. Did your coach rely on their title, punishment, and a bonus to make you better and enable you to reach your potential? Hopefully, your answer is NO. If not, I’m sorry. The best coach you ever had probably made you better because they knew what they were doing, was a great motivator, and showed you how to be better.

The best managers aren’t managers; they are unbelievable coaches. They know what they are doing, create visions for what can be, believe in their people, and mentor them to reach their potential. While people think of a manager as above somebody, a coach is below supporting somebody, underneath them to catch them when they fail and push them up to achieve.


How do I become a coach?

One of the difficult and painful transitions in a career is going from an individual contributor to a manager of people. The transition is much easier with the mindset of being a coach. Below are some best practices for being a coach, instead of a despised manager.


Get the basics right

Make sure you’ve covered the basics. Be clear about the person’s accountabilities and your expectations. And, understand their goals, motivation, and expectations.


Invert yourself from above to below

Often when people think about management or a manager, they think about an org chart and hierarchy. The most important thing to do in becoming a coach is to change your orientation. Instead of imagining yourself over them, imagine yourself supporting them as a coach. Changing your orientation towards someone can profoundly change your relationship.



Focus on making people better at what they do. Give them the training, feedback, best practices, and encouragement they need to achieve their goals.


Don’t tell people to get there, show them how to get there

One of the lowest value management styles is to tell people to be faster and better. I worked with a sales manager who thought management was telling people their quota for the month. He had the same conversation with his team almost every day, “here is your quota, your way behind, are you going to hit your quota?” It is like a coach constantly telling a runner, “you have to run a 5-minute mile, you have to run a 5-minute mile.” People want to do well, and they want to get better.

Instead of just focusing on the output you want, you have to work on their strengths and weaknesses, train them, show them how, and mentor them to grow.


Ask for their best

One of the best questions a coach can ask an athlete is, “Was that your best?” As a coach, you have every right and should ask your team members, from time to time, before even starting a meeting or review, “Is this your best work?” You will immediately know if they are giving their all.


Hold people accountable

Good coaches hold people accountable for their actions and behavior. They can look an athlete in the eye and say “that wasn’t good, let’s try again.” You cannot be an effective coach if you don’t hold people accountable.


What is walkabout coaching?

Walkabout coaching is an effective coaching method. Walkabout coaching often referred to as management by wandering around (MBWA), is just that, managing by wandering around, talking to team members, answering questions, helping problem solve, and getting a pulse on what is happening at every level of an organization.

Walkabout coaching is one of the most useful tools for managing people, teams, and organizations. Managers who are always in their office or meetings are missing out on what is really happening. Walkabout management helps strategic leaders:


Build relationships, respect, and trust

When a leader walks around engaging in conversation with all types of team members, at all levels of the organization, it goes a long way to building genuine relationships and trust.


Create alignment and better solutions

People and teams don’t do well with only a progress meeting one month, and then another one a month later. They crave feedback, words of affirmation, and confirmation that they’re going in the right direction. Walkabout management gives strategic leaders an unassuming window into the work of people and teams to engage in problem solving, answer questions, and provide guidance and mentorship.


Grows leaders with new perspectives

Getting in the trenches with team members, seeing what they see, and hearing their frustrations and ideas is the freshest way to gain new perspectives on the organization, opportunities, and issues.


How do you embrace walkabout coaching?

Walkabout coaching is a bit more than just walking around. Here are some of the best practices.


Make time for your walkabouts

Do you have some free time on your calendar? Block it out for a walkabout. You are never too busy to spend unscheduled time with people.


Ask questions and listen

Ask the basic questions,

– “How are you doing?”
– “What are you working on?”
– “How is the project going?”
– “What can we do better to support you?”
– What are some of your ideas to fix the issue?”
Listen, and be present, as though they are the only person or team in the world at that moment.


Be genuinely empathetic

Genuinely hear what people have to say. Empathize with them, and ask them questions to thoroughly understand their issues, opportunities, or situation. Give them affirmation, encouragement, and a potential path forward.


Give praise and recognition

Some of the most impactful recognition you can give someone is during a walkabout. They aren’t expecting a gift of recognition and praise, in the middle of a day, during a random conversation.


Conduct impromptu meetings

If there is an issue or opportunity a group of people needs to discuss, then get them together and discuss it. Every meeting shouldn’t have to be formal and scheduled. Typically the best meetings are impromptu ones.




 Learn more about Joe Newsum, the author of all this free content and a McKinsey Alum. I provide a suite of coaching and training services to realize the potential in you, your team, and your business. Learn more about me and my coaching philosophy.
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