Should Project Leaders Abandon Managing for Coaching?

7. 13. 2023

Managing and coaching “are two leadership strategies that managers use to build and develop employee skills and core competencies” (Jennifer Herrity, 2023). There have been advocacies for leaders to shift focus from managing to coaching (Hassell. 2022) even as Some followers advocate the desire to “Stop managing and start coaching” Growth Institute (2023).  Kelly Miller & Amanda O’Bryan (2020) in their article; “Must-have Coaching Skills for Managers and Leaders” emphatically announced that “the old way of being a boss is over” As extreme as this may sound, it does appear that they run into a dilemma of not distinguishing between the characteristics of coaching and managing when they list what coaching does. The general trend suggests that coaching is a better way or much better to lead a project team.

While we are delving into the application of these concepts it will be safe not to assume that everyone understands the difference between managing and coaching. According to Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman (2014), every executive assume that every good manager is naturally a good coach, thus underscoring the fact that some executives do not understand the difference between managing and coaching. Sometimes the words managing and coaching are used loosely and interchangeably. Drawing from experts, we can distinguish between these two leadership strategies.

The Goals

While this study is not refuting the assertions that there is a shift from managing to coaching, it wants to find out to what extent that is taking place and in particular to leading project teams. Suffice it to say that every development and improvement for mankind is through project management.

Therefore, this study aims to become an addition to provide guidance and support to improving project leadership style and project team performance, and consequently contribute to the quality of life for mankind.

The questions therefore include:

  1. Do we have to abandon managing for coaching entirely?
  2. Could there be a need to combine managing and coaching?
  3. Given the case of inexperienced talents that may need to be guided, will coaching be good for them as they are getting into the game?

It is on these premises that the study set to find out the right time to start coaching the project team.

Literature Review

It is paramount to identify the differences between managing and coaching from the perspective of experts to be sure of the quality of the study.

Managing calls for the supervision of subordinates or team at work targeting immediate results. According to Shonna Waters (2021), the manager directs workflow towards meeting organizational or in this case a project goal. It is result-driven requiring measuring individual or teams’ performance against set matrices or key performing indexes. Accordingly, the managers, monitor and control the tasks that are involved, or that they have delegated.

Coaching involves developing and establishing the framework of soft skills infrastructure that inspires teams and individuals towards achieving developmental and long-term capabilities, growth, and goals for self and organizational improvement. On the other hand, managing focuses on achieving short-term goals.

Managing unlike coaching relies on and engages a straight top-down approach relationship, and therefore does not require frequent feedback from employees or the team. The major feedback that is used in this approach is captured during the annual or periodic review.

Coaching is collaborative and involves frequent two-way feedback. It enhances work relationships whereby employees’ strengths and weaknesses around the work environment are easily discovered, thus they are explored to build strength and support improvement overall.

The manager gets involved directly in solving immediate problems at all times to ensure that the team or individuals accomplish their results quickly, while the coach could recommend ideas and get support for the team either by resource addition or prompting the team to discover the solution themselves, thereby adding to their expertise and capability.

Coaching is emersed in communication collaboratively with the teams and individual employees, sharing knowledge expressing their needs, asking, and answering questions in feedforward, building trust and efficiency, and breeding a “solution-oriented thinking” mindset. Managing entails reporting to the manager who sets the goals and set objectives, with little to no input from the employees. The communication tends to be one-sided, top-down, and devoid of regular feedback except for occasional assessment. According to Shonna Waters (2021) from the perspective of communicating with subordinates, noted that managing is usually one way directionally. The manager gives directions to the team members, determine what they have to do, monitors them closely, and engages in making assessments to see that their target objective is achieved.

On the other hand, by coaching, there is a two-way conversation allowing the team members the liberty to think and take initiative and professionally resolve issues on their own which makes for long-term growth and development. The team members may be guided and empowered to find ways to achieve results.

The coach is able to develop influence that motivates and creates empathy, support, and belongingness such that employees are able to refocus from just completing their tasks, to having the greater goal for the big picture. Kelly Miller & Amanda O’Bryan (2022)

Managing does not tacitly support self-reliance as it bears a “higher degree” of direct instruction on how to go about work, thereby limiting the opportunity for employees to learn, from their experience and grow rapidly in skills and experience. Yet it is beneficial if tasks, activities, and deliverables have close deadlines that employees do not have sufficient experience to resolve. New employees rely on managers to guide them and support them as they start to build confidence on the job.

The coach who encourages and inspires employees to be self-reliant takes advantage of their expertise, skills, and experience of the team, presupposing that they have the aptitude and capability, and level of critical thinking to navigate work challenges in context. Accordingly, coaching is most welcome to independent thinking, confident, and experienced individuals that desire empowerment, and motivated achievers.

Managing focuses on making an immediate decision to resolve task-related issues. Managing measures against set matrixes, monitors, and control the team members.

Coaching inspires, motivates, collaborates, and empowers employees to be independent grow and improve in performance, while managing trains, directs, and sees that the employees follow guidelines. Often the manager takes credit for the result or the outcome.

 Several pieces of literature point to the fact that employees desire to be coached over being managed (Zenger and Folkman, 2014), and research has also proven that effective coaching has a strong impact on improved performance. In an effort to further clarify issues distinguishing coaching, in their research, Zenger and Folkman (2014) identified attributes that are associated with good coaching skills. Thus, it points to the fact that Coaching requires more inherent attributes than training to dominate the incumbent. The attributes include the followings.

  1. Having to be more collaborative than being the boss that thrives with being directive.
  2. Having the approach to present self as an equal to the employees being coached, instead of trying to prove expertise, and finally,
  3. Having the passion and inclination to proffer advice and become an enabler of discovery than dictating what to do or getting involved in doing it

Traditionally, the manager exerts authority by pushing forward their ideas and in most cases expects or insists on a pattern of set activities that must be followed by the subordinate to perform a task. They may go further by providing a template that they can review over time to ensure that their directive is being followed.  In contrast, the coach will allow the subordinate to take initiative regarding what they judge to be the most appropriate way to tackle a problem, giving a nod, and cheering the effort, but only intervene when it appears the team member is “completely lost” and the consequence will be detrimental to the set objectives. Typically, the coach engages in conversation at the overview that can generate questions and guidance that the employee will leverage to improve their experience.

The coach does not take the “high seat” of authority and expects the team member to come asking “How do you want me to do this? Or what are the measures that I need to put together to achieve a good mixture? Instead, the coach may ask the team member, what do you think? This indicates that the coach trusts the team member to do the right thing just like a colleague.

 Accordingly, the team member is empowered to think, take initiative, and sees himself or herself as being charged with the responsibility to achieve. This approach engenders continuous growth because the team members are inherently urged to know more and improve their experience, leading to continued growth in experience and capability.

The leader generally revolves around 3 management tools; the “Direct, Delegate, and Develop” framework to achieve their objectives as they weigh and navigate managing and coaching strategies.

By “Directing” the leader gives a clear explanation of expectations as to what to do and the outcome he or she needs to see. The manager follows up by monitoring and controlling the employee and the process to ensure that exact expectations are met. The procedure is documented for employees’ adoption, and used to check if the employee follows the processes, thus directing is essentially a managing tool.

Delegating can vary depending on the specific situation. This makes it useful for both managing and coaching. It is used when leading experienced, skilled, and knowledgeable employees. What they need is a clear objective and purpose. The employees are empowered to adopt the method that they adjudge as best to accomplish the job. The leader asks for and gives feedback at intervals to know how the team is progressing, as well as appreciates and inspires the team further. According to Shonna Waters (2021), “the employees have the required competencies, confidence, and knowledgeable with the methods that are applied.”

Develop, is used for highly competent teams and individuals. They are motivated and committed employees. Give them the objectives and the vision, they are self-directed or self-organized. They plan the work, embrace critical thinking, navigate the challenges, and do not need monitoring. They care for the enabling environment with the required resources. This domain is for coaching. These are people that look for new challenges that offer opportunities for growth. The coach does need to recognize and appreciate them appropriately for their achievement from time to time.

Remote Project Teams’ Exceptions

Taking a leap as to what goes on in a remote project, coaching a remote team can be more challenging (Yael Zofi, 2020) because there are many instances of “identity conflict” that could be linked to organizational culture or the mere fact that the parties never met in person, and in extreme cases a mixture of culture, language/time zone, social context, etc. She proffered the use of open and transparent lines of communication which naturally engenders the trust that is needed most. It is best if there are cohorts that work in different regions with a manager overseeing the local teams. The coach will have to elicit specifics about employee engagement and the results. This individual behavioral work feedback is sought with the intent of building on the positives and adjusting or improving from the unimpressive factors.

The coach poses to understand employees’ aspects, recognizing. variances that might be due to sociocultural differences in the context of team, customer, and goals. The coach indulges in conversation, listening fully before interjecting and avoiding dominating conversations, as this ensures that subsequent conversations will be honest. In diversity, the coach must be very skilled in both emotional and cultural intelligence, to be able to understand fully different forms of cues in tone, and body language. Patience is very valuable to allow for feedback responses.

The major approach will consist of the following:

  1. The coach should have on the table scheduled and ad-hoc sessions for feedback and coaching. While the scheduled sessions make room for proper preparation, the ad-hoc sessions will be more as the need arises or on a contingency basis. These impromptu sessions are necessary, and the need could be prompted from either end. Brent Gleeson (2020) recommended daily check-ins; after all, it is not uncommon to hold daily meetings.
  2. The coach should use appropriate communication tools during the sessions as there may be instances face-to-face may be necessary to capture some essence otherwise may constitute salient feedback, besides enhanced social presence. There are advanced communication tools that come very close to reality available to practitioners today. The parties can use video cameras and share screens, and notes during the sessions with some of these tools, including Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Hangouts Hyflex, etc.
  3. The meetings should clearly set expectations or recall previously set expectations to set the tone, so the employee or local manager understands the direction of the session from the starting point. The matrices or performance indicators will need to be discussed along with other environmental dynamics and behavioral factors that interplay with employee interest.
  4. The coach should leverage active listening and demonstrate it to the employee at all times during the session and avoid a tendency to downplay at any moment. The coach may ask questions on the line of statements, paraphrasing, or rephrasing statements to gain better clarity. The coach may use “Use a combination of written, voice, and virtual-in-person communication, and being conscious of cultural limitations and imbibe patience. The coach should be equipped with cultural and emotional intelligence for great results.
  5. The coach will take a pattern of feedback, that lists positives from the employees first before coming up with the concerns (Yael Zofi, 2020), rather than calling them negatives. The approach offers praise and inspires the employees for their achievements, while they receive with a positive attitude the necessity to improve on the weak points. “Celebrate high-quality work and successful problem-solving” noted (Herrity, 2023).
  6. Regarding areas of concern, the coach may use such statements as “we” should be improving in this area, stepping up to reach such marks or goals. At this point, the coach should expect to get comments from the employee in return. The employee does not feel humiliated or chastised, in the face of balanced feedback or rather “feedforward.” (Yael Zofi, 2020)
  7. The coach will need to reiterate the expectation and goals going forward, reinforcing the employee’s success and the need to re-enact the same capability while weighing the feedback that represents employee feedback. This presupposes there are concerns. Where there are no concerns, the coach should commend the employee and assure of continued support while reinforcing the expectations and noting openness to suggestions from the employee for improvement and growth.
  8. Finally, the coach has to show his or her acknowledgment of the views of the party being coached, and the uniqueness of their environment as the case may be, reiterate that they are working to collaborate as partners for the common good, and assure the team member of the support, morally and materially to become unsuccessful.

Finally, in his contribution to their article stop managing and start coaching on February 17, 2023, Daniel Marcos the CEO of Growth Institute, speaking from practice experience, pushed forward the argument that coaching is very effective in every industry.


This study adopted a mixture of primary research by way of interviews and surveys while accepting information from relevant works of literature from the perspective of secondary research. Given the misunderstanding of the concepts of managing and coaching, it became important to filter respondents at multi-levels. Firstly, there was the need to contact people in project management practice, and secondly to identify those knowledgeable to distinguish between managing and coaching even as the questionnaire picked mainly on the elements that are identifiable in the concepts. The participants received the questionnaires designed on the platform Google Forms. The questions are directed to elicit participants’ inclination to give up managing for coaching, to know if coaching should be introduced right at the commencement of a project, or if there are exceptions. The objective is to consider the sample population as representative of the larger population in Canada. We targeted a defined audience of project practitioners. The total responses are 68 practitioners. Resource constraints affected the size of this sample population. Ultimately, qualitative analysis was used to draw the necessary inferences that are derived from charts 1, 2, 3, and 4 displayed here.

Data and Analysis

The result of the engagement with the subject participants of this study using the questionnaires are as follows, representing their understanding and perception of this topic.

Figure 1.

Indications of the appropriate time to start coaching a project team.

Figure 1

Note: Figure 1, shows the period distribution for appropriate to start coaching project teams

Figure 1 chart created by the author Joseph Chiejina.

Figure 1 shows the period distributed 50.7% favoring commencement of coaching to new employees, 42.7 % when the employees have acquired sufficient experience and confidence, and 16.4 % when the team members have served for 6 months. There is no support against coaching at any time This distribution suggests that everyone will need coaching, though the commencement period differs due to some variables that may become the subject of future studies.

Figure 2.

Indications of the appropriate time to start coaching a remote project team.

Figure 2

Note: Figure 2 shows the period distribution for the appropriate to start coaching remote project teams

Figure 2 chart created by the author Joseph Chiejina.

Figure 2 addresses the case for a remote project team and indicates that 59.7 % want coaching to start as early as possible, while 22.4 % and 13.4% want coaching to start after the new members have acquired sufficient experience and confidence, and within the first month of engagement respectively. This development indicates that coaching may be more critical for remote project teams if we are to reflect on the result from Figure 1. It shows that 10 % more of the respondents favor the commencement of coaching as early as possible.

Figure 3.

Weighted leadership strategy preference for project teams.

Figure 3

Note: Figure 3 shows a preference for leadership strategies by project teams.

Figure 3 chart created by the author Joseph Chiejina.

Figure 3 shows a 47% of weighted leadership strategy that empowers and motivates the project team, allows them to take the initiative to apply their skills and knowledge over all other strategies, and agrees by weight of 36.4% of a combination of the latter and a leadership style that works with the team closely. This suggests that while leaning towards a coaching style, the teams do not object to managing outright. There are people who want a combination of Coaching and managing.

Figure 4.

Qualities/attributes project teams want from their leaders.

Figure 4

Note: Figure 4 shows optional attributes that project teams desire from their leaders.

Figure 4 chart created by the author Joseph Chiejina.

Figure 4 with 91.2% favorability for leadership that inspires, suggests solution options to the members, and believes in them points to an overwhelming preference for this type of leadership strategy known as coaching.


The result of the analysis readily answers the questions that this study set out to provide.

  1. To the question of whether managing should be abandoned for coaching, Figure 3 which has    36.4 % responses for a combination of coaching and managing confirms that practitioners do not want to abandon managing completely for coaching.
  2. To the question of whether there could be a need to combine managing and coaching, is readily answered in the same figure 3, which despite the high preference for coaching (47 %), 36.4 % is favorable to a combination of coaching and managing.
  3. Given the case of inexperienced talents that may need to be guided, will coaching be good for them as they are getting into the game? The answer here is unique. In figure 1. 32.8 % of respondents noted that there is need to acquire sufficient experience before embracing coaching, and Figure 2 specifies remote environments, 22.4% of the respondents agreed that there is a need for sufficient experience prior to embracing coaching.

It is noteworthy that even as there is a higher percentage of early coaching needs (59.7 to 50,7) between remote settings and traditional project settings, the percentage prescription for sufficient experience is higher 32.8 % in traditional settings to 22,4 in remote settings.

The foregoing presents opportunities for further research into this phenomenon. Furthermore, it is recommended that project team leaders take time to determine the level of coaching and managing strategies that will yield optimal results.




Folkman, J, Zenger, J (2014, June 4) Finding the Balance Between Coaching and Managing.

Gleeson B. (2020, August 26) 13 Tips for managing and leading remote teams.

Growth Institute (2023, February 17). Stop Managing, start coaching: 5 transformational shifts to boost employee effectiveness.

Hassell, D (2022) Creating a high performing team.

Herrity, J (2023, February 3) Coaching vs. Managing: Definitions, Differences and Tips.

Kelly Miller, K, & O’Bryan, A. (2020 February, 24) Must have coaching skills for managers and leaders.

Kloppenborg (2019), Contemporary Project Management, 4th Edition.: More facilitating than directing.

Waters S. (2021 June 11) Coaching vs Managing: What is the difference?

Zofi, Y. (2020, December 11). Seven tips for managing virtual teams and coaching remote employees.


Author: Joseph Chiejina, student LIGS University
Approved by: Amr Sukkar, lecturere LIGS University

Application for study

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