In general terms, coaching refers to guiding or prompting someone to do a specific task, without necessarily telling them how to do it. On the other hand, managing is, by definition, take control of someone or something.
When leading a team of people, which approach would you take? My experience so far has shown me that you have to apply both. You have to fine-tune and balance the two of them depending on the situation and the employee/team member you’re working with.
A few weeks ago, my 3-year-old wanted to play with a puzzle. He’s OK putting together simple puzzles, but this time he wanted to try something more difficult. He wasn’t able to make any sense out of the puzzle. It was a complete new experience to him. So, at the beginning, I told him exactly how to assemble the first pieces together. Suddenly, parts of the picture started appearing on the table, and now he was able to see it. Instead of continue telling him where to put the next pieces, I asked him to observe the colors on the edge of our partial result, and to look for other pieces that had those same colors. That would make it simpler for him to find the right pieces to put next. I also gave him some other clues. For example, I asked him if he could see any animals in the partial picture. He was able to spot the bottom half of a duck. I told him that if he could find a piece with the other half, maybe that’s where it would belong. And so he did. After a lot of trial and error, and further guidance, he was able to finish the puzzle.
It’s not my intention to compare an employee to a 3-year-old toddler. This anecdote, however, is a very practical example and a great analogy of how you would balance between managing and coaching. At first, I told my kid exactly what to do, and once I saw he knew the basics of the task and he could start forming a mental picture of the expected result, I started offering my guidance. Now he knows how to put that particular puzzle together, but more importantly, he has tools and techniques he can use to help him put other, perhaps more difficult, puzzles together.