Last week I was asked a simple question - what is the difference between a manager and a coach? It made me think.

I, like most people in the Gulf, seem to watch a lot of football on television and for years the person in charge of the team has always been called the 'manager.' If we look at other sports, the person running the team or looking after a high performing sportsperson is usually referred to as the 'coach'. However, over the past couple of years the football manager is now starting to be called, more often than not, the 'coach'. So it made me think what is the difference and more importantly how does it relate to an individual's jobs as a manager in the world of business?

I get involved in a lot of projects where I have to find out what it is that make high performers different from average performers. As I result of that I regularly have to ask people "Tell me what do you as a manager do? What are your key responsibilities and duties?" - the sort of responses I usually get are "I need to be good at planning and organising work, cost control, work allocation, resource scheduling, analysing data, solving problems, giving direction to others and dealing with customers."

Then when I ask them "What are your duties as a coach?" the range of answers then seem to include words such as leading, motivating, listening, encouraging, a developer of people, building confidence in people and inspiring them to achieve. Funny that they don't associate those activities with being a manager though! There are obvious (to me) crossover duties but one key question to consider is which role is going to be the most important in achieving your objectives, goals and outcomes, is it as a manager or a coach?

This is where the age-old dilemma comes into play because a lot of organisations will focus upon you executing and delivering the management related tasks that are perceived to drive performance. To some extent that's correct but if you are a manager, a leader or a supervisor you are more likely to be assessed (and more importantly rewarded) in terms of success, on the ability of your employees and your team's collective capability to deliver what is required rather than your ability to be task completion orientated.

The key issue is do you focus on 'tasks or people'? My view is that if you are after an engaged workforce that doesn't take time off work, or look elsewhere for another job, that consistently exceeds expectations and delivers results for your business there is only one answer and that is you have to find time 'coaching' and less time 'managing' - easy to say but ultimately difficult to achieve.

There's no formula for perfect coaching. It calls as much for intuition as for technique. What works with one employee won't work with another. But there are several characteristics that seem to support what successful coaches have in common. These are people who provide clear, complete instructions, let employees know how they're doing, give credit when credit is due and take time to support other people so that they can be successful. All of this is of course underpinned by a trusting working relationship that makes other people want to follow you as a leader.

Successful coaches also help their employees to understand and appreciate their own strengths and weaknesses and this of course sometimes means that some awkward conversations need to take place so that individuals can see both the good and less effective aspects of their performance. By doing this the coach is helping people to realise their potential whether it be in improving their performance in their current job or helping an individual to see how they could perform at another level of job.

It all sounds so simple when you see it written down but the real challenge for any leader or manager is finding the quality time to focus on the people rather than get sucked into focusing on task completion which may be easier! But if you need to get the best out of people you have to spend less time 'managing' and more time 'coaching'. Ultimately it should make your job easier!

Dave Millner is Consulting Director EMEA, Kenexa