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How (and why) to train managers as internal coaches

Steve Hemsley

Coaching benefits illustration

Should you train your managers in coaching skills? Steve Hemsley investigates

Research by leadership development specialist The Forum Corporation claims successful organisations provide 20% more coaching to staff than companies that perform less well.

Managing director Graham Scrivener says managers that are trained to be internal coaches learn to challenge their own leadership capabilities, feel valued, accountable and responsible for progress within the business.

“If coaching isn’t part of the culture then managers might not bother to coach and mentor and just focus on the things they are held accountable for, or they’ll just do it reactively,” he says.  “They will only coach when there’s a problem or when there is a specific need, such as a new starter or an underperformer. It is better if they coach proactively and strategically to elevate and progress the entire team.”

Scrivener adds that managers should also think beyond the business and extend their coaching skills to external charities or communities. “Applying this expertise in a different environment is a great test of knowledge and it enhances their skills in a different way, which can then be applied back into the business and passed down via internal coaching programmes.”

The training of managers to be coaches can improve business performance but any coaching strategy must be rooted in commercial goals. Susy Roberts, managing director at people development consultancy Hunter Roberts, says that a coaching culture should also allow for upwards coaching. “Everyone should feel as safe directing feedback and suggestions upwards and sideways through the organisation as they do downwards.”
She believes managers will want to volunteer to train as coaches because they can see the benefits to them personally.  “But to become an effective coach managers at any level need up-front training to develop their listening, empathy and observational skills. If someone goes through the training and does not demonstrate these skills then they should not receive the internal ‘accreditation’ to act as a coach.”

Nick Seneca Jankel, co-founder of coaching business WeCreate whose clients include Tesco, The BBC and Diageo, used to run creative agencies. It was here that he discovered the power of training managers to coach.

“We set up WeCreate to provide affordable coaching training for non-senior executives,” he says.  “We give them the basics so they can coach themselves and others using a peer to peer coaching tool kit. Managers learn to trust their own instincts when coaching and what questions to ask to make any session with a colleague effective. People need to understand how coaching and management are very different.”

So which managers should be chosen as internal coaches?

Linda Aspey runs Coaching for Leaders and has more than 25 years’ experience in this area. She says any organisation must consider the core qualities and skills it wants from its coaches and these must be consistent with the business objectives.

“People who’ve had their own coach are more likely to apply to become a coach,” she says. “Learning to coach does not always come easily to even the best trained managers.  Some organisations, particularly those in the public sector, have partnered and pooled with similar, non- competing organisations to build a really strong coaching pool.” 

Pressure on staffing levels and recruitment in the public sector has fuelled a rise in the number of managers being trained as organisations want their staff to be more resourceful and self-reliant.

“Giving managers the skills to coach means colleagues in other parts of the organisation are empowered and are not just waiting to be directed,” says Sue Alderson, director of Azure Consulting. “We run on-going supervisory sessions and help coaches with their CPD so they are also aware of the topical issues in the coaching industry.”

CASE STUDY: Kirklees Council

Kirklees Council has asked external coaching experts Azure Consulting to train 80 managers to be internal coaches, and so far nine out of 10 have had coaching assignments.

One of the trained coaches is Sarah Durdin, operational manager at Kirklees Streetscene and Housing who says she has benefited professionally and personally.

“I returned from maternity leave and was ready to develop my role,” she says. “I was put forward to be a coach and the training had to be intense to give you credibility internally and confidence in your own ability.”

Durdin has coached four colleagues from different parts of the organisation and now other staff are asking for her to be their internal coach.

“Before I begin any coaching relationship I sit down with the person and their manager to get clarity around what they want to achieve so there are some specific goals for now or for in six months’ time. This is not just about having a nice chat.”

She adds: “I would like to do more coaching because I can see the difference it makes to people’s confidence, performance and career progression.”


  • Merlin John

    From this article I came to know the importance of training managers as internal coaches and I would like to thank you so much for providing such valuable information with us. I really learned great lessons from this single article and hope it will surely help us.

    Patron Tequila

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