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Coaching vs. Directing: How to be a Leader People Want to Follow

April 18, 2022
By: Patrick Bosworth in the Communication category.

The Difference Between a Leader who Coaches & one who Directs

Many management development approaches fail to distinguish between the two or suggest that there are only minor differences between the two leadership styles. However, the distinction may be greater than expected at first glance and can make a measurable difference not only in the culture of a company, but also its overall success, capacity for growth and innovation, efficiency, and bottom line.

What’s the Difference?

Directing is an “I dictate, you deliver” relationship. It is a “ruler” leadership style that relies on convincing employees and team members to follow instructions precisely or exactly. A leader with a directing leadership style tends to view employees as workhorses to carry out the leader’s strategies and ideas, which typically results in burnt-out leaders, stagnant strategies, and disgruntled employees.

Conversely, a leader who coaches his or her employees does so “in the trenches,” helping to guide team members to the best solutions by exploring and developing ideas. A leader who coaches will readily admit that their own approach may not be the most effective solution and consciously works to grow and maximize the skills and talents of team members. Coaching provides support, knowledge, and resources while creating an environment where the leader works alongside team members instead of lording over them.

Finding Success

A true leader knows that only by maximizing the potential of each of his or her team members will the company find its greatest success. So how does a great leader provide an environment in which the team achieves long-term success by maximizing potential?

Here are five tips to help managers coach more and direct less:


1.  Help Team Members Achieve Their Goals

A good leader takes an interest in team members’ long-term goals, and helps them to achieve those goals.

No leader wants to lead a team fueled by a revolving door of employees that turn over every few months. A good, solid, and strong team comes from dependability and growth.

If you are the type of leader who helps create a path of growth for your employees, you are ensuring long-term employee retention rates.

By facilitating growth, you are also ensuring that the focus of development in each employee is focused on ways to grow within the company (instead of how to grow outside the company). This means you’re ultimately creating an environment in which team members have intense buy-in since they feel the success of the company will help propel the success of themselves (instead of always looking for a better opportunity elsewhere).


Delegating shouldn’t be used as a tool to get work off your plate; it should be used as a tool to help develop and explore the skills of each of your team members. Remember that your ultimate goal is not to be a “firefighting team” that can accomplish only the most glaring emergencies set before them; your goal is to create a superstar teams that can take the challenges in front of them and help the company grow and excel through creativity and resources that might not have otherwise been explored.

Gradually begin assigning others tasks that you’d otherwise perform yourself. Keep in mind the following when deciding which tasks to delegate:

  • Maximize employee’s strengths. Give them the opportunity to demonstrate unique strengths and improve areas of weakness.
  • Develop team members’ knowledge and skills. Help your employees exercise new knowledge and skills that will help groom them for future assignments and positions. This offers you a pipeline of talented employees to assist in attaining future goals.
  • Increase motivation and productivity by producing an environment employees find challenging, interesting, and meaningful.
  • Encourage commitment and buy-in. By involving employees in decisions and actions that affect them, you’re creating an environment of ownership and commitment for successful implementation.

Master delegation, performance coaching, and influencing in our virtual Accelerated Management Program.

3.  Praise in Public, Coach in Private.

Contrary to popular belief that salary fuels all personal employment decisions, one of the biggest reasons an employee leaves a company is because he or she feels underappreciated by their supervisor or manager.

When someone on your team goes the extra mile, make sure to mention it in a way that everyone can hear or read. Not only will it serve as a great example for the rest of your team, it will also strengthen your bond of trust with your employees and inspire them to continue giving it their all.

When it comes time to discuss areas that need improvement with an employee, however, no one likes to be publicly exposed, particularly if the reason they’re struggling is personal in nature. These discussions should be held in private, and should be phrased in a way that coaches for improvement or solving a problem together instead of placing blame or humiliating.

4. Be Specific

One of the biggest problems with feedback (positive or negative) is that it tends to be vague.

Make sure that when you provide praise to your employees you are being specific about the action they took as well as the positive impact it had on the company or team. This helps your employees feel like you are taking notice of their actions which helps create an environment of trust and accountability, and also helps to reinforce specific good behaviors that you would like to see replicated in the workplace.

The same is true when you’re required to provide coaching or constructive feedback.

Staying objective and stating what specifically went wrong during a given event as well as stating the impact of that action helps to create a conversation that can more objectively solve a problem or avoid a repeat event in the future.

How can you implement Performance Coaching in your organization? Read more about our virtual, on-demand program →

5. Be Open-minded

Some leaders have a habit of feeling that their way is the only “right way.” Coaching a team of superstars means understanding that the more strengths you can find in each team member, the stronger your team will be.

Instead of jumping in and managing the way a team member is handling a task, coach them through the exploration of their own solution. You may be surprised with what they came up with – and it may even be more effective than what you would have otherwise come up with on your own.

Closing the Gap

Even if the coaching leadership style doesn’t come naturally to you, most leaders have the capacity to master these skills with proper training and coaching that will incite real, measurable change with long-term quantitative business impact.

Whether you’re a first-time or experienced manager, our Accelerated Management Program can make a huge impact that gives you the tools to lead with greater skills and confidence, significantly increase the efficiency of your team, and create measurable positive business results.

The video below is a quick overview of how our virtual Accelerated Management Program delivers high-impact business training and coaching with 3x better results than traditional training programs.

Download our Leadership Guide to Emotional Intelligence