Directing or Coaching?

 November 10, 2021

Traditional managers tend to focus purely on performance and timely deliverables, neglecting the individual’s potential, and consequently, suppressing the inner drive of the employee to improve.

The role of managers in modern-day organisations has changed. They manage in complex environments and highly competitive markets. These are significant pressures on ongoing peak performance, and the expectation is that managers will adapt to constant changes and adjustments to new market forces.

Managers are expected to increase the organisation’s competitive advantage through increased profitability, productivity improvements, employee engagement and better customer service.

Traditional managers are people of unquestionable authority and power, purely focused on performance, ensuring that work is done in a timely and proper manner.

This approach neglects the individual’s potential and consequently suppresses the inner drive of the employees to improve. COVID-19 only acted as a catalyst. Managers have increasingly asked themselves how to unlock the potential of each employee, seeking to understand what makes an individual perform better, or how to get the best out of a team.

The progressive managers understand the shift in the workplace and the difference between employees being motivated to work, and employees being controlled and ‘bossed around’.

While there is a significant shift in management styles and focus, managers still need to meet objectives and targets, and employees still need to perform.

It goes without saying that employees will perform better if they feel they are valued and appreciated. Managers who take an interest in their employees are in a better position to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses and are more able to provide the development opportunities that best meet the employees’ needs.

Managers will only be successful if they can influence employees to commit to the organisation’s vision, connecting the organisation’s vision and the employees’ values.

Organisations with a well-developed coaching culture encourage managers to empower themselves with coaching skills, making a shift from directing towards a coaching conversation.

Research shows that managers using coaching skills are one step ahead of others. Should they wish to improve their competitive advantage further, organisations have a good reason to invest in training their managers as coaches.

The rise of managers who use coaching skills is evident in the 2020 ICF Global Coaching Study. The study reports an increase of 46 per cent in the number of managers and leaders using coaching skills in 2019, compared to 2015.

As the benefits of coaching in the workplace become more evident, there is a growing demand for leaders to use coaching skills with their employees. However, it is unknown how much training support managers receive to meet this increased demand.

Most experts agree that leadership ability has a bell curve distribution in the general population. There are few who inherently possess traits required to become successful leaders such as empathy, influence, communication, etc.

Similarly, there are some who will struggle to become leaders despite their best efforts. However, most of us are in the middle. With enough time, the right coaching, and intent, we can become good leaders.

John Maxwell’s 5 Levels of Leadership is arguably the most popular Leadership Model that aligns Coaching & Leadership. John Maxwell laid down 5 levels that everyone progresses through to reach the pinnacle of leadership.


Level 1 – Position – People follow because they have to. Maxwell’s first level is what many consider to be the goal of leadership – Position. This is when you are a manager and people follow you because they are required by the structure of the organization. You gain authority through the rules and regulations of the organization.

Level 1 doesn’t require any effort because anyone can be placed in a leadership role. For example, as a marketing manager if you ask your team to create a report. They will do so because they have no other choice. You are their boss. For them, not listening to you is equivalent to not doing their jobs. Many consider this level to be the ultimate goal of leadership, they don’t go beyond it and remain stuck at Level 1 for most of their careers.

Level 2 – Permission – People follow because they want to. At Level 2, people give you permission to lead them. Why? Because they like you as their leader and value the relationship you share with them. You realize that leadership is more than just authority and instead rely on personal relationships to develop influence. When the team feels trusted, valued, and respected they’re more likely to do more than just follow orders. This level also lays the foundation for creating a healthy team culture. A critical ingredient required to move to Level 2 is empathy.

Level 3 – Production – People follow because of what you have done for the organization.. There is a difference between respect and admiration. When people follow you because they like you or respect you, it is because of your personality. However true admiration requires something more – results. At the Production level, you have spent enough time with your team to deliver specific, measurable results. The team admires you for your leadership. You have not only mastered the interpersonal skills of the previous level but have also acquired deeper expertise in your role.

Level 4 – People Development – People follow because of what you have done for them personally. The leap to this level is perhaps the biggest.

At Level 4, you look beyond the immediate desires and motivations. Your legacy is visible in the team even in your absence. That legacy is reflected in people whom you mentor, the talent that you train, and the future breed of leaders that you prepare. People follow you because their own careers have progressed as a result of your leadership. You gain access to wider responsibilities and assume higher leadership roles.

According to Maxwell, a Level 4 leader spends almost 80% of their time coaching and only 20% on their personal productivity. The mentoring relationships that you nurture in the team will last beyond the immediate scope of work.

Level 5 – Pinnacle – People follow because of who you are and what you represent.

Unlike all the previous levels, the pinnacle of leadership can only be achieved if you have trained leaders that can achieve such a level themselves. In other words, the pinnacle of leadership is creating a new generation of leaders who are better than you. This is fuelled not by personal ambition but by a selfless desire to mentor others.

At this level, you spread the gospel of leadership and coach managers who will not just achieve success themselves but also train the next generation. You propel the cycle and become the living embodiment of the values that you preach.