Question number 5: Coach hat — manager hat

What if wearing different hats as manager and coach gives you a headache?

If this happens, it is very unfortunate because wearing more than one hat comes with your double role as manager-leader and managercoach. When it is not clear to both yourself and your employees that every manager has (at least) two different roles, confusion is likely to occur. With confusion comes tension and with that tension comes your headache.

It helps if you are not wearing both hats at the same time. Just make sure that your employees understand that in your position you have several hats, and when you are wearing the leader’s hat, you keep the coach’s hat in your hand and vice versa. That way nobody gets confused.

Once you have said and done what needs to be said and done as manager-leader, your employees know the direction and the boundaries of what you expect from them. For example, you give them budget constraints, sales targets, allocate resources to their teams, etc. When that is clear, you can take the manager-leader’s hat in your hand and put on the manager-coach’s hat. Now they know that you will be supporting and encouraging them to do what is useful to meet their goals and the goals of the company. When the confusion is gone, your headache is likely to disappear along with it.

Of course, doing your best to make things clear doesn’t solve this problem
forever. Since both your roles are intimately connected, they cannot always be separated so neatly, even though you try. The two roles are different sides of your managerial coin, so there will always be a little overlap where both roles are at play. You may sometimes hear your employees saying: “I thought you were coaching me, and now you tell me that I was wrong in doing X.” Or, in contrast: “I thought you had given me an order and now you tell me that I have to come up with my own proposals for action.”

This overlap is unavoidable for different reasons. The first is that people
always make interpretations about what they hear: “I thought this is what you meant …”. These interpretations might or might not have anything to do with the hat that you had been intending to wear in a given situation. So, even if you had intended to wear the coach’s hat, people might perceive you as leading and vice versa. Secondly, some employees will use these interpretations to serve their own purposes, and this can be a challenge for your leadership. For example, while you are coaching your sales team to help them reach their targets, they might interpret your helping attitude as opening the door for a bigger budget. Thirdly, both you and your employees work in an ever-changing context. This forces you to shift your role and position constantly.

Let’s look at an example. As a sales manager you probably do some field coaching. You sit in on meetings with clients. The clients see you as the leader, and now that they have the opportunity to talk with the top guy, they may ask you to make decisions. These decisions may run counter to what your salesman has promised them. You neither want to cut his decision short nor do you want to say to the client: “Hey, sorry, but I am only coaching my staff for the moment.” So you adapt on the spot. You consult with your salesman as if you were on the same hierarchical level, and you jointly take or postpone decisions. After this meeting, you shift back towards the coaching position and discuss the lesson learned by both of you.

To summarize:
• Wearing two hats is unavoidable.
• Make it clear when you are wearing which hat.
• Accept a limited amount of overlap.
• Talk constructively about these gray areas so that your employees knows where they are.

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