By Guy Harris
When you move into a leadership role, you gain two related roles: supervising and coaching. While they are not mutually exclusive skill sets, they are different.
- Supervising demands performance while coaching gains commitment.
- Supervising defines goals while coaching helps others set goals.
- Supervising gives direction while coaching helps people set agendas.
- Supervising makes more statements while coaching asks more questions.
- Supervising gives advice while coaching asks for input and help people find resources.
The primary difference between supervising and coaching is in the direction and purpose of the communication. Supervision communication tends to be more statement based and focused on either giving direction or receiving information reports and updates. Coaching communication relies on more inquisitive and conversational approaches that are focused on engaging the other party in a true two-way conversation.
The differences between supervising skills and coaching skills can make them seem like contradictory skill sets. In reality, they coexist on a continuum of approaches, and you will find yourself moving between the two skill sets frequently. In the extreme, they are different. Towards the middle, they are blended.
One way to visualize these two skill sets is as two ends of a line like this…
Coaching Skills <————————————–> Supervisor Skills
Neither supervising nor coaching is inherently good or bad. Both skill sets are important for leaders. Remember that even though Supervisor comes from the same root word as supervise, being a good Supervisor is about more than just supervising. To be a great Supervisor, you also need to coach.
One of the growth challenges faced by new supervisors is learning to choose between coaching and supervising for a specific situation. The difficulty in choosing the best approach for the situation often comes from their natural communication tendencies. Some people naturally gravitate to coaching approaches, and other people tend towards supervising strategies. Regardless of which way you “lean” in your communication preferences, to become a truly remarkable leader, you will need to make some adjustments to find the balance needed for success in your situation. I have met and worked with many leaders who have learned to achieve this balance. I have yet to meet the person who naturally and automatically achieves it.
Here are some quick thoughts to help you find the right balance:
Supervising approaches are often fast, direct, and short-term. Supervising approaches give direction for immediate action and results. When you have short timelines, you might need to take a supervising approach to the situation. You also might choose a supervising (directive) approach for one-time or limited-time tasks that have little long-term learning value or do not contribute to building your team’s confidence and capability. Remember, though, that directive approaches can negatively impact relationships if you lean on them too frequently.
Coaching approaches tend to be slower, more indirect, and longer-term. Coaching approaches ask, inquire, and engage the other person in an effort to lead them to conclusions and learning rather than directing them towards action. Because they rely heavily on conversation and dialogue, they can take longer in the moment. However, they also tend to create greater long-term positive impact on motivation and engagement. Remember, though, that these inquisitive and conversation-based approaches can also have a negative impact. For example, in situations where your team needs you to “make the call” and decide on a direction, too much coaching can feel indecisive rather than helpful.
Both supervising and coaching approaches have their place in your communication toolkit. One mark of a truly remarkable leader is learning how to strike the right balance between the two.