I just got back from training coaching skills in managers last week thinking on the number one questions managers ask the most: how do you know which hat to wear?

You see we were teaching them the difference between the approach we use as a manager and the approach we use as a coach. The manager tells, the coach asks. The manager gets to the point, the coach listens patiently. When you are a manager who needs to frequently segue between performance and development conversations, you have to be able to switch hats.

Last week’s group asked me why I used a cowboy hat in my illustration. Maybe it’s because I’m from Texas (you can take the girl out of Texas, but you can’t take Texas out of the girl), but then you can’t complete the illustration without the right footwear. (Rhymes with “knit pickers”!) This particular genre of boot is not the kind you wear to the country club — this is a boot that has seen some day and some deep…stuff. It’s well worn and good for several more miles. When I think of the manager with that kind of cowboy mindset, it reminds me why I love teaching coaching skills to managers.

A lot of us in leadership get promoted because we rock the world in a set of particular competencies. Someone sees how fabulous we are and says, “Here, now go teach these people how to be awesome like you!” The problem is, I’m good in my stuff, but how do I know I’ll be good teaching that to others? When we move into management, we can easily become “one of them” if we don’t use that title to raise people to a new level of engagement and take the lid off their potential.

I love to talk about the Harvard Business Review article, “You can’t be a great manager if you’re not a great coach,” because of this one statement:

“the most powerfully motivating condition people experience at work is making progress at something that is personally meaningful”

If we are just managing the number of beans people are counting, we will accomplish small victories within the boundaries of our duties. But when we see every single person under our influence as a multiplier of the company’s mission and culture, we are now wielding a mighty weapon! The way we do that is to know when to manage and know when to coach. It takes patience and seeing with a whole new lens. When people align their gifts and passions with the work they do, you’re going to need a whole lot more pairs of cowboy boots!

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