The manager as coach: micro-management, empowerment or ownership?

By Elisabeth Goodman, 7th August 2020

I hear a lot about micro-management in my work with managers and team members: managers worrying that they are being too directive and “hands on” but finding it difficult to delegate with confidence. Individuals frustrated that they don’t have the level of autonomy that they would like.

And I still hear that word that makes me cringe: “empowerment”. It feels too parental somehow: like something that a manager needs to convince or nurture their direct reports to take on; whereas the will to do so has often been knocked out of them.

Of course where we all want to get to these days is “ownership” – individuals just getting on with what they are best placed to do, and managers being available to support them if and when needed. Having a coaching mindset will help a manager to get everyone to this point.

Illustration by Elisabeth Goodman

A case study on how to move towards ownership via ‘responsabilisation’

I’ve enjoyed Gary Hamel’s articles for Harvard Business Review in the past (see for instance Why is employee engagement such an important topic, Maintaining employee engagement in growing and large organisations. You might also want to read The soul of a start-up, nimble leadership, flexibility and control on a similar theme.)

In “Harnessing everyday genius”, Gary Hamel and Michele Zanini (2020b) explore how Michelin has challenged outdated top-down bureaucratic approaches to management, and thereby “dramatically increased the authority and accountability” of all individuals in the organisation. They do admittedly use the term “responsabilisation” (from the French) which equates to “empowerment”, but none-the-less there are some good lessons to be learnt for moving towards a culture of what I’ve called “ownership”.

Hamel and Michele break down what Michelin achieved into headings that include:

1. Launching the movement

The company recruited volunteer teams to trial a new way of working, where teams were encouraged to “be bolder and more creative” and find their own solutions. (This is a classic coaching approach.)

Team leaders were to shift their role from “deciding” to “enabling”. They could ask such questions as: “What decisions could you make without my help?” and “What do I do today that you can imagine taking over tomorrow?” as ways to achieve that.

2. Converging on a shared view

Monthly phone conferences, shared online spaces, 3-day workshops to share experiences and develop ‘signature’ practices for more autonomous teams all helped with building a shared approach.

The learnings gained clustered around such themes as shared mission and objectives, developing competencies, coordination with others, managing performance.

3. Scaling up

Approaches for scaling up included day-long employee brainstorming sessions that generated more than 900 ideas, which were translated into themes that teams then took forward.

At one of the plants, in Poland, mindsets shifted to one of implicit trust in everyone – where it was “up to the individual to lose trust based on his or her actions”. This in itself had a “big impact”.

4. Redefining boundaries and roles

There was a big emphasis on developing skills that would enable managers to shift from “boss to mentor”, through training programmes on emotional intelligence and on “leading from behind”.

Being freed up from their more micro-management approach enabled those with the expertise to address the frontline work, whilst managers could focus on such areas as building team skills and resource planning.

Other interesting points and conclusion

The article covers a lot more than I’ve included here.

One of the notable points that the authors make is that companies around the world that have adopted this more enlightened approach to management:

“share a deep belief that “ordinary” employees, when given the chance to learn, grow, and contribute, are capable of extraordinary accomplishments. That conviction, when consistently acted upon, produces a workforce that’s deeply knowledgeable, relentlessly inventive, and ardently focused on the customer.”

They also reference Buurtzorg, a Dutch home-health-care provider, and how they train all employees in peer-coaching and other skills that enable them to hone their interpersonal and problem solving capabilities.

Why would managers not want to hone their own coaching skills to enable their direct reports in this way?

Hamel and Zanini’s (2020b) publication “Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them” would seem like a very worthwhile next read to find out more about this!



Hamel, G. and Zanini, M. (2020a). Harnessing Everyday Genius. How Michelin gives its frontline teams the power to make a difference. Harvard Business Review, July – August, pp. 86-95

Hamel, G. and Zanini, M. (2020b). Humanocracy: Creating Organizations as Amazing as the People Inside Them, Harvard Business Review Press.

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.  She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to develop management, interpersonal and communication skills, and to deal with change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Elisabeth is also a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester.

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