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Be Your Team’s Coach, Not Their Parent


You know there’s a difference between a leader and a boss. But there’s also a HUGE contrast between parenting and coaching.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

As a product owner in a tech company, I have the opportunity to work with every person and every team in the company. The product owner is someone who maximizes the value of the product that the development team creates. This means we define the product vision, prioritize tasks, research the users’ needs, evaluate the team’s performance, assess product impact, and a LOT more. Sounds a bit like the manager who runs the team and leads the company’s direction right? The challenging thing is, the product owner has no authority over anyone. We act as a bridge to connect, communicate, and motivate. No orders, no commands.

But you know what? This is where I learned that not being someone’s boss is a luxury. Because ordering someone to do something will never be as effective as motivating them to do it. Every change and drive comes from within and that’s what the team needs.

And sometimes when you are in the position of a boss or manager, you might not realize that. Especially when you start to cross the line and move from being a coach into being your team’s parent.

It might not sound too bad since a lot of companies I know want to use a “family” culture and believe it’s the best way to operate. I’m not saying that there’s no positive side to acting like a family, but I believe that coaching your team is a better way to go. Here are a few of the differences in parenting vs coaching I’ve been seeing and the reasons why you might want to choose to coach instead.

Care about your team’s well being, but don’t interfere with it.

If your team says they are not feeling well, or want to take a personal day off that doesn’t violate any agreement you have, let them be. Of course, you should see if there’s anything you can do to help, wish them to feel better, and be supportive. But never get to the point where you try to squeeze the explanation out of those days off. If they don’t feel great, you don’t need to know why. Especially in some cultures, sharing your mental or physical health are very personal and not common at all. Be considerate with your team while also respecting them as mature human beings.

Help them reach their best potential, but don’t control how.

As the coach of your team, one of your jobs is to help your team be the best version of themselves. Being a coach also means to learn about your team’s capability, see the potential, and help them go as far as they can. This involves you motivating, encouraging and guiding your team. But never get to the point where you control how they grow. Your team members are not your kids. They are grownup individuals who have the right to decide how they want to live and learn.

Learn to let go at the right time, your team is not your burden.

One big difference between your team and your family is, you can cut them off at any time. This might sound cold but it’s true. A family member will stick with you forever, you can’t fire them. But as the coach of your team, you need to learn when is the right time to let a team member go especially when it gets to the point where that person is starting to have a toxic effect on the team. Or when letting a person go and grow somewhere else is the better option for both of you. Have empathy for your team but also remember, they are not your burden.

After all, the thing both your kids and your team have in common, is that you should have good intention and empathy for them. But treating your team as your kids could prevent them from growing. And it can create a culture where the team is over-reliant on you, which results in a lack of motivation, creativity, and growth.

I hope that these things I’ve learned can be beneficial for you and your team. I might be wrong or miss some angles though. Feel free to reach out and we can discuss how you make the best team in your own way 🙂

Written by
Chalakorn Berg
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Chalakorn Berg