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Coaching for Self-Management

by Mark J. Cappone

Of the myriad leadership styles discussed in leadership books and college classrooms, the coaching style isn’t one frequently in the spotlight. Leaders who attempt a coaching approach often revert back to their comfort zones by telling people what to do or how to do it. As scholars Julia and Trenton Milner have discussed however, with just a bit of practice, leaders can coach others to transformational results through learning and self-discovery.[1]

( Julia Milner is professor in leadership and the academic director of the Global MBA program at EDHEC Business School in France. She is also an Honorary Professorial Fellow with the Sydney Business School in Australia. Trenton Milner is the general manager of the International Centre for Leadership Coaching.)

Coaching can be especially valuable in helping employees shape their own jobs by using a self-management approach to understand what’s intrinsically important to them and how they can realize those motivators in their day-to-day jobs.

As Jerry Connor has discussed in his Harvard Business Review article on coaching junior employees, leaders can play an instrumental role in helping their teammates to craft their own jobs by helping them remember why it was appealing to them in the first place and asking them to reflect on a few questions[2]:

  • What is going on right now?
  • How would you like it to be different?
  • What is the one thing you could do to move toward this vision?

In his book, Own Your Job — Five Tools for Self-Management and Accountability in the Workplace, Dr. Michael J. Colburn expounds on the power of coaching for self-management by highlighting the positive results leaders can achieve by providing an environment where employees take ownership of their jobs by actually leading the creation of their job descriptions, setting their own goals and managing their own performance.

This environment is one where the leader takes on the role of partner instead of manager, coaching and providing feedback that helps the employee realize continual learning and development, as well as fostering consistent performance improvement.

Dr. Colburn provides actionable self-management steps employees can take to envision their job in a meaningful way, develop plans and measures of performance to achieve, and then manage and track progress in concert with the leader.

Coaching questions are paramount in creating a transformational environment for employees, ensuring they reflect on things like:

  • What do I care about?
  • What can I do?
  • What will I do?

Coaching team members in crafting their own jobs and managing their own performance is a win-win. Employees are intrinsically motivated by being part of this development, thereby increasing their engagement and commitment to achieving overall organizational objectives.

Leaders also benefit by trusting their team members to supervise themselves in their daily duties. As Dr. Colburn has found, this approach “…reduces the perceived need to manage the self-managed employee…and frees up the time and energy for those higher in the organization to invest in important organizational improvement activities.” (p.13)[3]

Like other leadership approaches, a coaching style takes deliberate practice and effort to be effective, especially when coaching for self-management and accountability. However, the benefits to both leaders and followers is worth this effort and serves to transform both individuals and organizations alike.


[1] https://hbr.org/2018/08/most-managers-dont-know-how-to-coach-people-but-they-can-learn

[2] https://hbr.org/2019/09/to-coach-junior-employees-start-with-4-conversations?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter_daily&utm_campaign=dailyalert_not_activesubs&referral=00563&deliveryName=DM48685

[3] Colburn, M. (2019). Own Your Job – Five Tools for Self-Management and Accountability in the Workplace. CEFG Press.

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