When should a manager not be a manager?

The role of the manager encompasses leader and coach too, Gary Wyles explains more.

We read a lot into a job title. It is not just a feigned interest in the career someone has; psychologically we are trying to establish where people sit in the pecking order or just how far up the organisational hierarchy they are, usually in comparison to ourselves.

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When we hear a title with manager, we automatically place that person below that of someone in a leadership position. With this judgement call, we make a fatal error. We tend to assume that the roles are totally different. Right? Wrong.

Management, leadership and coaching are all different skill sets. These skills are not gifted upon us when our business cards change. They have to be honed and refined from the very first time we are responsible for a team of people and last all the way through our management and leadership careers.

So the next time we have that cocktail conversation asking ‘What do you do?’ we only have to dig just a little bit deeper, to find out that today’s managers are also expected to be leaders. Yes, it might be of a smaller group of people but managers have to be leaders as well.

Far more than that, they are usually expected to coach better performance out of their team. It’s a lot to place on the shoulders of those in management positions, especially those who are assuming the mantle of manager for the first time.

This is tricky stuff. We are expecting the freshest talent to take on this huge challenge. Let us for a moment consider what they are already having to deal with. We are waking up to the fact that managers are the key to engagement.

Managers are the link between the people and the business and the ones who have a direct impact on recruitment, retention, productivity and ultimately the bottom line.

However, training managers is only just becoming imperative for organisations. In recent research conducted by DDI, talent management experts and Festo and Works Management, we found some surprising results: 

  1. 9 out of 10 managers believe they don’t have the skills to manage.
  2. Only 23 per cent of managers actually want to lead other people.
  3. Half of managers take their first management role for increased compensation.
  4. 26 per cent of manufacturing and engineering organisations face a management and leadership skills shortage.
  5. 85 per cent say the lack of leadership and management skills is an important concern for the business.

While organisations have identified that the lack of management and leadership skills are a concern and could have an impact on the business, we need to do something about it. We also need to keep our focus on where it counts.  

We have spoken about the separate skills of management, leadership and coaching. This table below identifies how these skills differ in practice.

Management skills

Leadership skills

Coaching skills







Thank and explain ‘what’

Think and explain ‘why’

Question ‘how’

Focus on tasks & processes

Focus on people & emotions

Focus on the individual




Work within the status quo

Challenge the status quo

Change the status quo

Monitor & report performance

Expect & recognise performance

Reflect & improve performance

Manage results

Deliver results

Enhance results







Employ their team members

Engage their team members

Develop their team members

Build departments

Build teams

Build self-esteem

Implement change

Instigate change

Facilitate change

See it like it is

See it like it could be

See potential in people


Allow their people to decide

Help individuals to decide

Report on issues

Address the issues

Help individuals to solve issues

Embrace challenging targets

Set challenging targets

Help individuals to beat targets


One of the times that these three skills might come into play is when a manager addresses poor or challenging behaviour with one of the team. Certainly, a manager will need to raise and instigate a process to address the issue.

They will need to have evidence to back up their points and demonstrate how behaviour is affecting team morale and results. Using leadership skills a manager will be able to understand the person’s emotions and how these might influence attitude and behaviour. In addition, they will need to explain the reasons why this behaviour is unacceptable and address the issues, but the conversation should not stop there.

Switching into a coaching mind-set, the manager can help the individual to solve issues. They can ask them to reflect on their behaviour and decide for themselves how best to address underlying factors.

By building their self-esteem, they can bring the individual back on side and improve performance. Of course, this will not happen in a single conversation but over the course of time and with regular interventions.

These types of skills take practice and they require training.

Here are eight areas which first time managers can find difficult to handle and where we as trainers can help them transition smoothly into a management role and develop those highly valuable and worthwhile leadership and coaching skills.

  1. Move away from being the technical expert: This is one of the most difficult aspects to transition. By helping managers focus on the people rather than the task, they can move beyond telling people what to do and instead ask them how they would solve the problem.
  2. Having all the answers: A common mistake is for managers to feel that they have to know everything. Through leadership and coaching skills, managers can foster ideas and contributions from all members of the team.
  3. Knowing when to back off: Over-management contributes to low employee engagement. An effective people manager allows their team members to get on with their job. People perform to a higher level if they believe their manager has faith and confidence in their ability.
  4. Getting stuck in: When a team has to meet tough deadlines, then an extra pair of hands will be appreciated. By all pulling together, the manager shows they are sensitive and respectful of the needs of their people.
  5. Taking tough decisions: Management roles have responsibility. This means tough decisions will need to be made that can impact their people. They should be given the tools, information and resources to communicate effectively and to negotiate a balanced, swift and lasting resolution.
  6. Reward and recognition: People join an organisation but leave a boss, or so the old adage goes. We often think that people are motivated purely by financial rewards, but it has been found that, while these are important, recognition is just as vital.
  7. One eye on the future: Managers often find themselves handling the here and now, and dealing with the problems of yesterday. Good managers, leaders and coaches should always keep one eye firmly on the future to be able to predict and influence people and company decisions.


About the author

Gary Wyles is the managing director of Festo Training and Consultancy.




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