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Coaching Versus Managing: What’s the Difference?

Coaching Versus Managing: What’s the Difference?

Discover what separates coaching from managing and how incorporating both perspectives into your leadership will benefit your team.


In the workplace, everyone needs direction from time to time. We may want to develop new skills to excel or find confidence in our existing capabilities. Whatever the case may be, we turn to the leaders in our lives—those role models we know will provide the perfect advice.

Coaches and managers are both leaders. They’re qualified professionals who people look to for support and guidance. But how they offer their expertise to others is different (and these differences are important).

A coach can be a manager, and a manager a coach — it comes down to knowing what type of guidance to provide in each situation. As a leader in the workplace, when should you put on your coaching hat or swap it out for your manager’s cap?

Read on to explore the difference between coaching and managing and how these leadership techniques complement one another. 

What is coaching?

The definition of coaching covers a lot of ground — in fact, there are countless coaching niches and styles. But at its most basic level, coaching is a reciprocal interaction in which a coaching professional — no matter their focus — guides a person or group of people toward betterment. 

Coaches believe their clients’ have the potential to solve their own problems — with a little help. Their role is to help clients identify their strengths, areas of opportunity, and roadblocks on the way to their goals. Coaches also empower clients to set a course of action and then stick to a plan, even when things are tough. 

Beyond offering support and accountability, coaches are also educators who provide clients with the skills and know-how to tackle problems. These professionals focus on assisting clients in shifting their habits and outlooks and making long-term changes, equipping them with the self-reliance they need to succeed on their own. 

When is coaching the right choice? 

Coaching is just one functional type of leadership in the workplace, meaning there are some circumstances better suited to this approach than others. Here are a few examples of situations in which this type of guidance shines: 

  • Helping people improve their communication skills 
  • Equipping clients with knowledge essential to their work
  • Showing people how to believe in themselves, find their motivation and passions, and take on new goals 
  • Promoting clients’ personal and professional growth 
  • Inspiring creativity and out-of-the-box thinking
  • Helping people who feel stuck find a new way forward
  • Monitoring progress and showing people how far they’ve come

To learn more about the different types of coaching, the techniques these professionals use, and who they can help, check out our blog

What is managing? 

Sometimes, we just need a little push in the right direction. Other times, we need a hand on our shoulder, guiding us the entire way. 

The latter describes the role of a manager. These professionals take the reins and steer their team toward fulfilling a goal, like completing an important project or hitting a crucial performance milestone. 

Unlike coaches, who ask clients to find answers within themselves, managers take a more direct approach. They might offer explicit instructions, set a schedule, or provide proactive answers. Their job is to lead by example, forging a path to success for their team.

When is managing the right choice? 

Certain situations, especially high-stakes ones, demand that a manager step in and make a plan. The following are a few tasks that effective managers perform well: 

  • Leading meetings
  • Delegating tasks 
  • Guiding a team toward meeting deadlines
  • Creating a plan to get out of a crisis
  • Decision-making in high-pressure situations
  • Training or onboarding team members 


Coaching and managing: Key differences

Coaches are hands-off guides, while managers are more hands-on. In other words, managers are changemakers, while coaches invite others to make changes from within. Here are a few more differences that set these two leadership techniques apart. 

  • Coaches focus on long-term changes, while managers focus on correcting a problem in the here and now.
  • Coaches tend to deal less with acute situations than managers, who wade into the nitty-gritty of tough circumstances to problem-solve.
  • Coaches open a conversation with their clients and listen as much as (or more than) they talk, whereas managers make decisions and provide direction. 

How to know when to coach or manage 

Coaching and managing are unique leadership styles, and while these techniques differ, one person can perform both. Whether you’re a professional life coach or a fitness coach taking on a managerial role with staff or a high-level executive looking to incorporate coaching in your management, effective coaching and management complement each other well — so it’s important to know when and how to switch between them. 

Simply put, when employees are in a crisis or need a leader to make decisions, managers manage. When employees want to make long-term changes and grow in their roles, managers coach.

Coaching as a manager 

Managers can improve employee engagement and retention by using coaching techniques with their direct reports. Becoming a mentor to staff aids in employee development, and the time and energy you put into leveling up staff is a direct investment in the success of your company. 

Managers acting as coaches can help their direct reports: 

  • Improve their professional skillset through formal training
  • Become better at problem-solving and critical thinking
  • Address future or recurring challenges 
  • Create a career development plan to reach professional goals 
  • Work more efficiently as a team

Tips for improving your coaching skills

Whether you’re a manager or a coach, brushing up on your skills will help you better serve those under your leadership. Here are some tips for growing as a mentor and coach:

  • Listen and ask questions: Active listening is essential to coaching. Always pay close attention so you understand the person’s needs, strengths, and obstacles. If you have questions, ask them. You need as much detail as possible to help clients create a path to their goals.
  • Give and ask for feedback: While coaching others to become their best selves, you’ll also become a better coach — especially if you take feedback gracefully. Ask your clients and colleagues to complete a survey or meet one-on-one to chat about their experiences. You can also give feedback to those you’re helping. If you see them hit a roadblock or stray from the action plan you made, talk to them to find out what isn’t working. You may be able to help them devise a new way forward.
  • Help others feel seen and supported: Listen intently and empathize with the struggles others face, even if their insecurities and obstacles differ from yours. During the coaching journey, remind the people you’re helping how much progress they’ve made to keep them motivated.
  • Have a growth mindset: If you’re a manager, you may be excellent at looking at a problem, finding a solution, and putting a plan into action. But when you take a coaching approach to your role, remember that your aim is to help others grow, and growth comes from within. Focus on coaching employees toward discovering their strengths and navigating around obstacles instead of telling them what to do. 

Stay organized with Practice

Great leadership goes hand-in-hand with strong organizational skills. But we understand management comes with a lot of responsibilities — that’s why we want to help you keep on top of it all. 

Practice’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform is specifically designed to assist business leaders with storing client data and documents securely. You’ll also gain access to templates, a booking platform, and safe and easy payments, all of which can take some work off your plate.

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