How To Achieve Workplace Happiness: Insights From Coaching Leaders

Does your organization have managers that people won’t want to leave? Read on to understand how a manager’s leadership style is linked to employee happiness.

How To Achieve Workplace Happiness: Insights From Coaching Leaders

In our multi-part series on Coaching, we at explore a critical "power skill" essential for today's dynamic workplace. With our professional courses platform, we assist thousands of training buyers daily in discovering the perfect course from our trusted providers. In this article, we've partnered with expert training providers to offer valuable insights on the differences between managers and coaches, and how coaching leaders can help employees thrive.

Fundamentally, it’s the boss factor that substantially influences employee happiness. (Only mental health is more important). It comes as no surprise then that 75% of Americans say that the most stressful part of their workday is their immediate boss.

People don’t leave companies, they leave leaders. Does your organization have managers that people won’t want to leave? 

Read on for more understanding of how a manager’s leadership style is intrinsically linked to employee happiness, and thereby, their overall willingness to stay.

Employees Want Their Managers to be Coaches, not Bosses

In sports, a great coach makes the athlete better by creating an individualized development experience. They probe to reveal and then tap into the athlete’s unique and intrinsic motivation. They then leverage those strengths and characteristics to help achieve the athlete’s performance objectives.

The same can be said of a great manager. According to a wide-ranging Gallup study of 1.2 million employees in 22 organizations across 45 countries, great leaders aren’t managers in the traditional sense. Instead, they are coaches who “focus on individual and team engagement, seeing their role as what employees need to succeed.” Gallup states that 7 out of 10 leaders and managers see developing talent as one of their primary tasks.


So exactly what makes a manager and what makes a coach? Is coaching always better and what, if any, are the challenges of a coaching leadership style? 

What’s the Difference: Managers vs. Coaches? 

Managers— Prioritize Productivity

Traditional managers manage people from a division of work and productivity perspective.

  • They tell people what to do.
  • They supervise the work at hand.
  • They are task-oriented to get things done (vs. relationship-oriented).
  • They use feedback as an opportunity to correct or punish when performance is not up to expectations. 
  • They are self-oriented as their underlying motivation for team success.

Coaches— Support Through Schooling

Coaching leaders are definitively relationship-based. Gallup's research establishes three key ways coaching is distinct from managing. 

1. Coaches see themselves as a support function to the employee. They focus on the individual and the team and determine how best to keep them engaged to ensure a positive and successful work experience. 

2. Coaches are enthusiastic about, and generally see their main role as, developing employees. They consider themselves a successful manager when their employees move on to other roles. Coaches take great pleasure from these moments, rather than indulging in feelings of resentment. 

Since they are development-focused, great coaching leaders attempt to understand and maximize the unique strengths of each employee. They continuously use and develop these talents to maximize corporate, as well as, individual outcomes. It’s a successful “win-win” tactic with research verifying that strength-based employee development provides 14-29% increased corporate profit.

3. Coaches set clear expectations and performance goals and provide helpful and productive feedback. This is recognized as feedback that optimizes an individual’s strengths and increases team effectiveness.


The research seems clear on coaching versus managing, but nothing is ever so clearcut. So, we asked the experts, our training providers, to weigh in with their perspectives.  Below, they offer their takes on the differences between being a manager and being a coach. 

How do Traditional Managers Lead vs. a Coaching Leader?

Managers are typically the ones “in charge.” Many employees aspire to managerial status as they are usually rewarded with better pay, benefits, bonuses, recognition, and power. Therefore, to many, it’s seen as a desirable position of status.

Dr. Maria Nemeth, Ph.D., from Academy for Coaching Excellence believes there’s an inherent power struggle between a manager and their employees which underlies every interaction:

“A manager has a specific agenda for the person they are managing. This agenda usually has to do with the success of the business in which they are working. It is almost always true that managers want the employee to stretch and grow specific success skills.

However, there is a power dynamic in the manager/employee relationship which doesn’t exist at all when someone is being coached.”

In other words, it’s tough for the one “in charge” to let go of that power. They don’t trust their own people. This lack of trust in the workplace then creeps into all aspects of the employee experience to create a diseased workplace culture. It’s many an employee who complains of micromanaging bosses and feels disengaged. 

Tara Powers, CEO of Powers Resource Center sees the distinction between managers and coaches like this:

“Managers are responsible for planning, organizing and prioritizing the work so that their teams can accomplish a task or goal. It's necessary to manage or direct tasks when things get off track or difficult decisions need to be made.

Coaching is focused on personal and professional development and bringing out the best in others by building up skills, confidence, competence, and commitment.” 

 APLS Group contributes:

“Managers are the experts– they present, sell, influence, problem solve and strategize.

Coaches bring out the best in people through personalized teachings, expanding awareness to address the skills and qualities to ensure success and transform personal leadership skills that will link and align to organizational goals.

Coaches listen with a third ear– to the words and the meanings behind the words.”

Oliver Martin, Director of Training at Stitt Feld Handy Group, a division of ADR Chambers asserts:

“Traditionally, managers have relied on having all the answers. A key distinction between coaching and managing is that coaching empowers employees instead of directing them.

A manager who focuses on “managing” may help staff to respond to a particular problem or attend to a specific task but the manager who focuses on coaching will help the employee to develop their potential to deal with issues in the future as well.”

Wes Martin, Manager of Leadership Development Services at Strata Leadership emphasizes both approaches to leadership:

"At Strata Leadership, we discuss coaching as a tool in the managerial toolbox. As such, it isn't the right approach for all situations. In the same way that a hammer and a wrench serve specific purposes for a handyperson, coaching and other management forms serve different purposes for managers.

The shift from a tell-and-direct to an ask-and-inquire approach of leading requires a shift in the manager's self-concept.

Thus, in adopting a coaching approach, managers must believe that their effectiveness is based on the team's success above and beyond individual success. This shift is critical and can be supported by an organization that rewards leaders for team, rather than individual, performance.”

What are the Benefits of a Coaching Leader?

Coaching is transformational— both individually and organizationally— according to our experts and the research. Leaders who focus on coaching, focus on the “people” part of being a people manager to exact change. When employees feel valued in their work and their experience, they are more likely to stay.

“Becoming a Coaching Leader is the key to transforming organizations into thriving communities of committed people who produce extraordinary results.” Ellen Cooperperson, President/Chief Learning Officer/Leadership Coach of Cooperperson Performance Consulting.

“Great coaching leaders inspire others to become the best version of themselves. This is the competitive edge that builds a vibrant organization and a success-driven team.”

A coaching manager:

cultivates sustainable behavior change

delivers results

engages employees

inspires success-driven teams

creates opportunities for collaborative teamwork

develops critical and strategic thinking skills

builds relationships with employees


What Does it Take to be a Coaching Manager? .… 3 Essentials 

There are certainly times when a traditional tell-and-direct type of management style is warranted. A leader who can skillfully coach at pivotal moments, however, can have a greater impact on individual employee, team, and organizational success. 

Becoming a human-centered coaching manager, though, is not an easy shift to make. We’ve identified three essential undertakings fundamental to becoming a coaching manager. 

1. Coaching Needs to be a Mindset for Managers

“We believe that coaching is not an event; it is a daily practice for managers.”

-- Oliver Martin, Stitt Feld Handy

Martin elaborates, “Finding the time to coach and holding back from giving advice are the two most common coaching challenges that we hear from managers.” “The misperception is that coaching must be a formal and time-consuming process (i.e. a series of 60-minute meetings).” 

For bosses used to a traditional management style, they have to shift their mindset to believe in the proverbial wisdom of “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” 

It behooves managers to be able to spot teaching opportunities and take the time to do so. Yes, it may take longer than simply directing the employee. But in the long run, managers who continuously coach their employees are rewarded with the rare commodity of time, in addition to empowered employees who can find meaning in their work.  

2.  Coaching Leaders Need Organizational Support

“If a company truly supports coaching and development, it must commit to helping managers create the time and space for coaching.”

-- Tara Powers, Powers Resource Center

Powers goes on to emphasize, “This may mean additional resources, more reasonable onboarding of new employees and new clients, and communicating the expectation that developing others is their number one priority.” 

Most organizations do not provide incentives or skills for managers to focus on employee happiness. Yet, these days, there are inordinate pressures on organizations to retain employees. 

Expectations are sky-high. Since an employee’s relationship with management is such a critical driver of overall satisfaction in interpersonal relationships at work-- not to mention mental wellbeing-- organizations cannot leave such a crucial factor up to chance.

3.  Managers Need Coaching-Specific Training

“Managers need to adopt a coaching mindset and they need specific skills, such as asking powerful coaching questions, to be able to coach effectively.”

-- Oliver Martin, Stitt Feld Handy

The research and our experts make a coaching leadership style sound like a magic bullet. But it’s unbelievably rare that managers intuitively know how to coach employees. 

Gallup’s research contends that only 1 in 10 people can be considered “great managers.” The ones who build relationships that create trust, open communication, and transparency. Even when managers understand deep inside the reasons they should adopt a more coaching style, the habits of authority can easily get in the way. 

Great managers don’t become great on their own. Any manager, though, can become an engaging coaching leader who employees don’t want to leave. 

The benefits of coaching managing versus traditional managing are clear. These skills are, most importantly, not mutually exclusive from the other. With a little training, any manager can develop their ability to coach employees to success.

This article is part of’s series on Coaching. For more insights on becoming a coaching leader, read more here:

Is your organization’s retention strategy aligned

with your leadership development priorities?

Coaching can help you achieve your strategic goals.  

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Rama Eriksson

Digital Content Editor (more)
Rama Eriksson is a Digital Content Editor at Her writing is complemented by 15+ years as an international marketing professional. She brings her experience and curiosity to connect professionals to the right training to help further their goals. Rama has Masters degrees in both law and business. Originally from the New York area, Rama has lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 2010. (less)


Rama Eriksson is a Digital Content Editor at Her writing is complemented by 15+ years as an international marketing professional. She brings her experience and curiosity to connect professionals to the right training to help further their goals. Rama has Masters degrees in both law and business. Originally from the New York area, Rama has lived in Stockholm, Sweden since 2010.


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