A deeper understanding of neuroscience helps us redesign our mindsets and environments.
This issue: How can we get managers on board with coaching?


It can be hard to get managers’ buy-in to coaching. Typically, they’re already overstretched so it’s critical the vision for coaching is shared effectively. How do we stack up the benefits so high that it would be illogical for a manager not to want to check it out? Can science help us position coaching with managers? Let’s look at motivation, attention management and working with evolving brains.

Intrinsic motivation
A frequent question raised by managers is, ‘How do I motivate my team?’ Old-school approaches to this question rely on extrinsic motivators. However, science has shown us that intrinsic motivators often trump extrinsic ones, are longer-lasting and therefore reliable. When you coach an individual, you have the opportunity to help them tap into what intrinsically motivates them. As their self-awareness increases, they become better equipped to motivate themselves. As you listen to what’s important to them you’ll also have better information to support and draw them back in when they struggle.

Managers can use questions to draw attention to intrinsic motivators multiple times each day. ‘What is it about this project that resonates with your core values?’; ‘How do you feel working in this time is helping you to grow?’ or ‘What will you feel proud about after how you delivered this year?’ Once managers are well trained and confident, every day is enhanced through coaching. Their teams benefit as well.

Attention management
A person’s attention is one of their most precious resources. Without careful nurturing, though, it gets diluted. Many organisations talk about high-performing teams. They want individuals to deliver all they can each day. For this to be a reality, we need managers who can help guide their people’s attention. How do we do this? Is it by telling people what to focus on? Well, you can try, but it isn’t likely to be very effective. Instead, we need to use coaching to help people activate wider networks in their brains to attend to things.

If you tell someone to do something, they have an auditory input, but they won’t necessarily have anything more than that. If you ask someone a question, or a short series of questions, you help them think. This activates a wider network of neural nets that set them up to attend to things more effectively. Managers normally have ideas of what they’d love their team members to bear in mind. When they use coaching skills they’re better equipped to do this, and to uncover more things it would be helpful for each person to attend to.

Continuous upgrades
The human brain is always changing and neuronal circuits adapt every day. The manager can guide some of this process. A good manager knows the strengths and weaknesses of his team and can use coaching to help the individuals develop. A really good manager knows the individual’s drivers and priorities outside of work, too. These managers coach their colleagues in a way that benefits them through all their life, increasing engagement, wellbeing, focus and attention.

There’s a wealth of evidence that reveals the workings of the brain and exposes why old tell-based management styles are no longer sufficient. Drawing on insights from science can really help a manager see why coaching is a wise investment and life move for them.


  • Next issue: Exploring expectations

  • Amy Brann is founder and director of Synaptic Potential
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