The Manager as Career Coach


The current climate of rapid change within health care poses challenges for managers, staff and organizations. Organizations that focus on the human side of change, those that are supportive and assist their employees in being proactive and taking charge of their careers, are the real winners in this environment. Career coaching is one powerful tool to promote both managers’ and staff’s career resilience and job satisfaction. It helps staff determine whether their current job is the best path to achieving their career goals; it increases managers’ competencies in human resource management; and most important, it helps organizations to retain key employees. In health-care organizations managers are pivotal in ensuring job satisfaction and, through that, in facilitating quality patient care. Thus, managers may be ideal career coaches.

Coaching is a collaborative relationship undertaken between a coach and a willing individual, the client. Through a process of discovery, goal setting, and strategic action, it can facilitate extraordinary results. Fundamental to its success is a willingness to risk embarking on a process of change without being sure of where the journey will take you: “to engage in coaching one must be willing to observe, question and change the self that they are” (Echeverria & Olalla, 1993, p. 6). Although coaching has been a valued activity in the business sector for some time, it is a relatively new phenomenon in health care. Its popularity, however, is increasing and executive coaching, personal/life coaching, and career coaching are becoming more common in a number of health-care organizations.

Career coaches focus specifically on working with a client to design, monitor, and continuously evaluate a plan of action directed toward career development. Career coaching is about helping people be more successful and happier with their careers – to look at their career as more than a job. Career coaches act as process agents who ask key questions, probe and confront, and eventually evoke from the client a vision and a plan for taking action. They help their clients clarify core values, beliefs, and a sense of purpose, and then they identify gaps between clients’ career visions and reality.

Health care managers who act as career coaches have a significant role to play in helping their staff to:

  • Understand the environment in which they live and work and to answer the question, “What are the current realities/future trends in health care, locally, nationally, and globally?”
  • Identify their values, skills, interests, and accomplishments and to answer the question, “Who am I?”
  • Answer the question, “How do others see me?”
  • Create a career vision, set realistic career goals, and answer the question, “What do I really want to be doing?”
  • Develop a strategic career plan and answer the question, “How can I achieve my career goals?” and
  • Become familiar with marketing strategies and answer the question, “How can I best market myself?”
Yet Donner, Wheeler, and Waddell (1997) reached three key conclusions about this coaching relationship in their study, The Nurse Manager as a Career Planning Resource:
  • Managers want to act as career coaches, but they require skill development in this area. They need access to courses, workshops, and/or formal education in human resource management.
  • Managers themselves need support and coaching. They need coaches who can help them take control of their careers, who take an interest in their potential (not just within the organization, but in general), who help them identify their strengths and limitations, and who help them plan their growth and development.
  • Most important, of course, the organization needs to value the career planning aspect of the manager’s role and integrate career development into its human resources philosophy. When career planning and development is seen as important to an organization, then it will be visible within the organization’s strategic plan, its performance management system, and its professional development philosophy.

Managers who are provided with opportunities to develop career-coaching competencies can take an active role in assisting their staff to achieve their career goals. They can be significant resources for the new recruit, the mid-career employee, or those considering retirement. Managers have a number of opportunities, such as at recruitment, at time of hire, at regular performance appraisals, ongoing, and at the exit interview, to assist staff with their career planning and development. Their role as coach, support, and mentor is an important one that will make the difference in staff satisfaction, productivity, and turnover, as well as in their own job satisfaction. It will also help the organization recruit the “best and the brightest”- in all roles.


Echeverria, R., & Olalla, J. (1993). The art of ontological coaching: Part I. Unpublished work. Olney, MD: The Newfield Group.

Donner, G., Wheeler, M., & Waddell, J. (1997). The nurse manager as a career planning resource. The Journal of Nursing Administration, 27(12), 14-18.

Gail Donner, RN PhD and Mary M. Wheeler RN MEd are partners in Donner & Wheeler- Career Development Consultants. For the past 10 years they have been working in Canada, the USA, Europe and most recently South Africa promoting career resilience by developing tools and strategies for nurses and organizations. They speak, write, do research and provide workshops and coaching (onsite and online) on career planning and development.

For more information, please contact Donner & Wheeler – Career Development Consultants at or

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