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  • Writer's pictureCindy Copich

A Coach or A Boss?

Updated: Feb 12, 2023

A growing body of research indicates that employees no longer want a “boss” they want a “coach” (Gallup, 2019). This is especially important for Millennials and Gen Z employees. I’m struggling to think there was ever a time when employees enjoyed having a traditional boss, or more specifically, being bossed. Perhaps we are better at asking employees how they want to be treated and understanding which leadership style is more effective in building relationships, valuing employee expertise, and building engagement.

I have conducted a series of employee interviews for a large academic institution specifically to gather feedback for their supervisors regarding work environment and employee engagement. Employees responded to a short survey regarding the work environment. Questions asked if their supervisor treated all employees fairly, supported employee development, and recognized employees for their contributions. I followed up this survey with one-on-one 15-minute interviews consisting of five brief questions: what does your supervisor do that is beneficial to the work environment, what would you do differently if you were to supervise yourself, and is there anything else you would like to add? These questions were meant to gather employee input to improve the work environment, the overall employee experience, and improve retention. I have conducted these interviews annually for the past two years. The employees appreciate the opportunity to provide feedback, expressing how it makes them feel valued. They also acknowledge the importance of an outside third-party conducting the interviews (me) to provide anonymous input. Their responses are thoughtful and solution-focused.

Upon completion of the interviews, I prepare a summary of employee information for supervisors. I look for trends, commonalities, and issues that can be addressed. I also have the opportunity to share positive comments and feedback. I bring the team of supervisors together as a group to problem-solve, debrief, and coach one another. These opportunities allow supervisors to support one another and share ideas based on their relevant experience. Through this process they are building a network of connection that supports their progress. The employee feedback collected and summarized has led to necessary improvements regarding workload, employee training, and workplace culture.

Coaching doesn’t just occur from supervisor to employee- when it is built into the culture of an organization, coaching is done horizontally, upward and downward. Coaching is built on conversation (both formal and informal), not on directing or bossing. The benefits of coaching center on relationship building but they also improve organizational problem-solving, planning, collaboration, and influencing behaviors and ideas (Bianco-Mathis and Nabors, 2017). Behavioral change is more apt to take place in a coaching culture. Research shows that people generally learn more when they come to the solution on their own through guided questioning (coaching) rather than being told what to do (bossing). Coaching requires that a supervisor LISTEN and be curious about the situation, context, environment, and the employee’s perspective. This stance creates a culture of appreciation and increases the likelihood of an employee feeling valued, engaged, and productive. Coaching emphasizes support, self-awareness, and growth- it's future-focused and individualized. It builds a positive workplace environment for everyone.

Coaching does require practice, especially as we shift from a boss to a coach. It requires a genuine interest in employees, relationships built on trust, and the ability to create a space for dialogue; moreover, it requires vulnerability so that we can be honest about what we need to learn and how we need to grow. Coaching is progressive, not punitive. It is developmental, not judgmental. It’s time to consider- which do you want to be? If we want to retain the very best employees, they deserve the best, a coach.

Bianco-Mathis and Nabors, Everyday Coaching: Using Conversation to Strengthen Your Culture; ATD Press (2017).

Gallup, It’s the Manager (2019).


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