When To Coach And When To Direct

Over recent years there has been a growing body of evidence that demonstrates the value of coaching. Employee surveys report that employees continue to express the desire to be coached and broader organisational research demonstrates that companies with higher levels of employee engagement also have strong coaching cultures.

It seems reasonable to conclude that coaching is an essential skill for managers and leaders. When leading training workshops, I often hear participants sharing their frustrations about giving their team members the same direction over and over, which leads to a frequently asked question;

“When is it most appropriate to coach an employee versus give them direction?”. This is the topic of this week’s blog post.  


Coaching vs Direction: A few definitions


Personally, I like this quote from Sir John Whitmore.  

“Coaching is unlocking people’s potential to maximize their own performance. It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them.”  – Sir John Whitmore




From a management perspective, this is about providing instructions on what to do and how to do it, be this a task or skill.


What Are The Benefits Of Each Approach?

The truth is that the most effective managers are those who can judge when it’s appropriate to direct and when to coach. Both have huge value, and ideally, a team members performance is maximised when both approaches are used.  

There are too many benefits and I have listed a selection below.



  • Empowers individuals and encourages them to take responsibility and supports then to be more self-reliant. 
  • Increases employee and staff engagement and results in more job and life satisfaction. 
  • Improves individual performance and contribution as they act towards achieving Key Performance Indicators. 
  • Helps managers and organisations to identify and develop high potential employees. 
  • Employees become more accountable for their actions and commitments. 
  • Supports individuals to work more efficiently and productively with their colleagues, manager, and stakeholders. 




  • Allows individuals to do exactly what is asked of them and what you need to accomplish. 
  • Ensures that procedures are followed, and systems are used appropriately.
  • In the short term, it can be a time saver when a manager has limited time.   
  • Is easier for managers to keep control of a situation or how a task is being completed. 
  • Means managers can manage high-risk situations more effectively. 

For now, I’d like to be clear on when to use coaching and direction.


When Do You Coach?

Opinion can vary on this, and I prefer to use the ‘Skill Will Matrix’ introduced by Max Landsberg in his book The Toa of Coaching, which we have previously written about in our underperformance blog.

  • Coach when a person has the skills and yet lacks motivation.  
  • Coach when the person has the basic skills, and you want to support them to develop their
    skills further. 
  • Coach when external circumstances are impacting their ability to complete a task.  

When Do You Give Direction?



Giving direction is clear.   

  • Direct when the person does not have the necessary knowledge or skills to complete a task.  

This often relates to new team members. Remember it also applies to experienced employees who
are being introduced to new tasks, systems or processes or are required to develop new skills. In this instance, the direction will be in the form of training or a briefing.


Are You Using The Appropriate Approach?

Take some time to reflect on how you are using these two management approaches. Be honest with yourself. If you find you are getting tired of answering the same questions repeatedly and wish your team members would stop, I respectfully suggest it’s time you stopped.

Stop answering their questions and start coaching.

Likewise, be mindful that you are ‘trying’ to coach someone when they have little knowledge of the topic in the first place. There is no wonder they are unable to answer your coaching questions.

Think, what’s the task, what’s their skill and knowledge level like and how motivated are they?

Then decide on your approach.


Until next time,

Julia Carter