Why 1:1 Coaching Is a Game Changer for Managers with Karen Benz (Ep. #71)

Published on
February 28, 2023
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Building Better Managers Podcast Episode #71: Why One on One Coaching Is a Game Changer for Managers with Karen Benz

Every business is invested in growing and developing its leaders. If they can be taught, they can lead. And, good leadership has a ripple effect.

While the need for greater leadership development has never been more critical, determining what kind of solution will best equip your team to lead successfully—today and into the future—remains a difficult task. The corporate learning industry is filled with different L&D offerings, but what really sets them apart?

BetterManager practices Directed Coaching, where our coaches and facilitators bring their real-world business and people management experience, their professional coaching expertise, and their wisdom into every 1:1 engagement.

Unlike traditional approaches to coaching, where the focus is primarily on asking powerful questions to enable individuals to find their own answers, BetterManager coaches act as true thought partners, brainstorming ideas and offering guidance when asked.

In this episode:

Meet BetterManager VP Karen Benz

  • Karen Benz is an experienced Executive Coach with an extensive background in leadership and management. She holds a B.S. (Bryant University) and M.S. in Management (Salve Regina University). Her experience spans most industries including technology, finance, health care, defense, manufacturing, service, nonprofit, government, and education.  
  • She holds a certification in DISC and has taught business courses at the university level for over 10 years. She also has experience as the Chief Operating Officer of an ambulatory health care facility located in Rhode Island. Karen is a certified graduate of Corporate Coach University. She is the VP of Coaching at BetterManager and is based in Rhode Island.

What 1:1 Coaching Is - And What It Isn't!

  • Coaching often gets confused with mentoring, therapy, training, and consulting.  
  • One-on-One Coaching is the process of building individual leadership and management skills through goal setting and focused conversations. It is focused on the future. The coach also acts as a “thought partner” with the client to process events, issues, and information.
  • Mentoring is helping the manager navigate through the organization, industry, or procedures by someone with considerable expertise in that role.
  • Therapy is focused on healing the past. Coaching can sometimes feel like therapy because the client often hasn’t experienced this type of close relationship outside of therapy.  
  • Consulting is focused on sharing specific expertise in a particular area. 
  • Training is typically focused on a group practicing a specific procedure, or learning specific knowledge, not individualized learning. 

What Is Directed Coaching?

  • At BetterManager, we designed the term “Directed Coaching." Unlike traditional coaching, where you focus primarily on asking questions to enable the client to find their own answers, Directed Coaching involves our coaches bringing their real-world business and people management experience, their education, and their wisdom into the coaching engagement. 
  • So, in addition to asking powerful questions, our coaches are uniquely able to help brainstorm ideas with clients and offer guidance when asked.

Is There a Difference Between an Organization Using Internal Coaches vs a 3rd Party Provider?

  • Organizations striving for a coaching culture will often use both internal and external coaches.
  • Our clients say that one of the advantages of hiring an external coach like BetterManager is that they appreciate having someone from the outside because they aren't mired in the internal politics of the organization
  • It can be challenging for internal coaches to build that trust because people often fear that their comments and problems will get around to others in the organization.
  • When you're from the outside, clients feel more psychological safety and a freedom to confront their issues head on. Some examples that we see all the time are centered around lacking confidence or having a difficult relationship with someone in the workplace. Issues like these are often very hard to talk about internally because there's always the fear that it will get back to the person they are having problems with.
  • External coaches also have different perspectives - you get the benefit of having different ways of looking at issues while still maintaining the goals and parameters set by the organization.
  • Managers can get stuck thinking a certain way about an issue. By introducing a different way of looking at something, so getting them off the dance floor and up to the balcony to get a new view of the situation is often exactly what they need.


  • Coaching is not remedial! You can't "fix" people in coaching, so when you pick people for coaching, make sure that everyone knows that it's to be treated as an investment in the person, in their development, and in their future.
  • In order for coaching to be successful it's best if the client is self-motivated. Progress is so much faster when they are motivated to learn to grow and to confront some things about themselves that they may have passed over in the past. It really does take a commitment on their part to actively participate in the process!
  • It is always an eye-opener to see what coaching can do for productivity, for the company's culture, and how it can help people lead better lives.

Downloads & Resources

Follow Karen on LinkedIn, Twitter, and at BetterManager.

Subscribe to our podcast on your favorite podcast platform!

Check out our blog articles on Leadership here.

Karen Benz

Karen Benz is an experienced Executive Coach with an extensive background in leadership and management. She holds a B.S. (Bryant University) and M.S. in Management (Salve Regina University). Her experience spans most industries including technology, finance, health care, defense, manufacturing, service, nonprofit, government, and education.  

She holds a certification in DISC and has taught business courses at the university level for over 10 years. She also has experience as the Chief Operating Officer of an ambulatory health care facility located in Rhode Island. Karen is a certified graduate of Corporate Coach University. She is the VP of Coaching at BetterManager and is based in Rhode Island.

View the episode transcript

Wendy Hanson  0:24  

Welcome, everybody. I am so happy to have you on today. And it is a special treat today. Because, you know, we always talk to great managers and leaders out in the field to share their knowledge and wisdom. And we want to be able to give new information to people in HR and l&d. And I thought, wow, we have a lot of expertise at BetterManager. And I think it would be nice to be able to use that expertise, and be able to share some things that some people listening in the audience may not be so aware of. So I am just delighted to bring on our Vice President of coaching Karen Benz so we can really talk about what coaching is and what coaching isn't, because I think that information will really help people. So let me tell you a little bit about Karen before I bring her on. Karen Benz is an experienced executive coach with an extensive background in leadership and management. She holds a BS from Bryant University and an MS in management from Salvy Regina University. Her experience spans most industries including technology, finance, healthcare, defense, Manufacturing, Service, nonprofit government and education. As you see she has done it all. She holds a certification in disk and has taught business courses at the university level for 10 years. She's also has an experience as Chief Operating Officer of an ambulatory care facility located in Rhode Island. Karen is a certified graduate of corporate coach University. She is the vice president of coaching at BetterManager. And she is based in Rhode Island. Thank you, Karen, for joining us and taking the time today.

Karen Benz  2:13  

Oh, Wendy, thank you. Thank you. It's my pleasure.

Wendy Hanson  2:17  

Well, I love that we have been partners since almost the beginning of BetterManager for the last six years. And and, you know, I ask everybody this question of what gets you most excited about your work?

Karen Benz  2:32  

I would say? It's a great question. A great coaching question too, by the way, I think what excites me about my work is really making a difference in the work that I do, seeing the impact that I have, not just as vice president of coaching, but as an executive coach, I love absolutely love coaching. And I also get excited when I see the impact that our coaches have on managers and leaders, we have a satisfaction rating of 9.6, that's remained pretty constant over the last six years or so. And to me, that indicates that we haven't sacrificed quality for quantity, even now that we have over 100 coaches. And also what's exciting is watching our business grow. You know, as you mentioned, we've worked together for six years, and we were very small. And now we're we're moving on up. So it's that's exciting.

Wendy Hanson  3:33  

Yes, and I love your passion for executive coaching. Because that really has such an impact on our coaches. Because when they come to you for coaching, to say, here's a challenge that I'm having, you just you know that field, you're not you're not up on the on the balcony, staying there, you go down on the dance floor and coach, then you go back up to the balcony. So your knowledge is just so deep and your experiences is amazing.

Karen Benz  4:02  

Thank you. Thank you. I always say that. Executive Coaching feeds my soul. It's really what grounds me in this work? Yeah,

Wendy Hanson  4:11  

well, we're the beneficiary of it. So for for many listeners, and and I would hope most listeners are beginning to understand more about what coaching is, but they may not have had a coaching experience. And I think you can hear about coaching. But the feedback that we get when when we're working with people is that they're astounded like I never knew and two coaching sessions, because we asked for feedback after the second one, that oh my goodness, I've already learned things that I can implement with my team. So could you tell us a little bit about what is the coaching experience to try to give them as much flavor as we can and describe what coaching is and what coaching is it?

Karen Benz  4:56  

Yeah, that's an important question. We I would say the vast majority of people coming into coaching really don't know what to expect. And they are often delighted. And but coaching really is the process of building individual leadership and management skills through goal setting and focus conversations. It's focused on the future. The coach often acts as a thought partner to the client, to help them process events, information and issues. What it isn't it often coaching is often confused with mentoring, therapy, training and consulting. And I would describe mentoring, for example, as when it's helping a manager or a leader navigate through an organization or an industry. And typically the mentor has experience in a particular area. Therapy, as you know, is focused on the past. And what's interesting is coaching can sometimes feel like therapy, because the client hasn't, hasn't experienced this type of close relationship outside of therapy. Consulting, on the other hand, is focused on sharing specific expertise in a particular area. And finally, training is typically focused on group learning, not individualized learning as coaching is, yes.

Wendy Hanson  6:24  

And we do know, we've just found some great research on when you add coaching to training. It, it's just amazing, you know, you can do training by itself, and it's just not going to be as effective. If you add coaching on to get people to feel it in their bones. It's it's an amazing response.

Karen Benz  6:43  

That's right. That's right.

Wendy Hanson  6:46  

Now, when we started at BetterManager, Caran, back in the day, we talked about, we're working with a lot of senior people, directors, and it's not traditional coaching that you can do, because there's two different things when people have been trained as a coach. And we thought there needs to be people that have real business expertise. And so tell us about, you know, we, we coined that term directed coaching, what is directed coaching mean?

Karen Benz  7:16  

So, unlike traditional coaching, and I'll explain what I mean by traditional coaching, traditional coaching means you're asking powerful questions to elicit the answer from the client, the client has all the answers from within, that's really how we're trained as coaches, directed coaching deviates from that, and that we, as coaches bring our education, our experience, and our wisdom, to the coaching engagement to really enhance the experience. So if a client is struggling with a particular issue, we can help them brainstorm, or we can offer guidance when needed.

Wendy Hanson  7:57  

Yeah, it's, I think it makes such a difference and in the feedback that we get, because we ask for very frequent feedback. And, and we really always hear that, thank goodness that my coach shared their experience or the experience of others. And, and I think that that's a real differentiator for

Karen Benz  8:18  

us, and our coaches, you know, an entry requirement to BetterManager for coaches is that they have 10 or more years of business management experience, as well as coaching, certified coaching experience. And so that business experience is what coaches lean into, when a client is confronted with a business problem, for example, we help them navigate that.

Wendy Hanson  8:46  

Yeah. And that, that makes all the difference. We we get that feedback all the time. And many of our coaches have been CEOs of companies, you know, they've, they've really had some really important jobs. So they, they can relate and I think the people that they're coaching, see their, you know, their credibility right off the bat,

Karen Benz  9:07  

right. And our coaches, what's interesting is, our coaches don't need to have functional expertise, meaning they don't have to be accountants to coach accountants or lawyers to coach lawyers. Instead, the business experience they have gives them enough business acumen so that they can pick up the language in an industry, they can pick up on nuances within the business. So they're very astute when it comes to tackling business problems with clients.

Wendy Hanson  9:40  

That's such a great point. Yeah, because often times we'll get asked by our partners, customers, if we have somebody that has expertise in a certain area, and really, we're all about helping teams and people and managers work better together.

Karen Benz  9:56  

And so many people problems are you as they cross industries, it's very, very common.

Wendy Hanson  10:03  

Yes. Now, one thing that we're also known for at BetterManager is our coach community. When we, we have a, we have a lineup of coaches that want to join us. And it's because we've heard about your community, tell us about the community. Yeah, the

Karen Benz  10:20  

community is something that you and I are both very proud of, because we've worked hard at this over these years. And it's very robust. This is, again, something that I think differentiates us in the market. We found that when we interview coaches, the number one reason they want to come to us is because of our community. They've heard about it throughout, you know, through from other coaches, our coaches refer coaches to us. So we know that the community is strong and it's working. And being let's, let's face it, being a coach working on your own is lonely. And the community is very welcoming and supportive, supportive. And a few examples of what we do to build community, we have bi monthly coach community calls, where we update the coaches on the business, we share ideas and simply connect. We also have a monthly book club, as well as dedicated Slack channels for coaches. And finally, all of our coaches are assigned to pods. And these pods have about 20 coaches in them. And they're led by experienced BetterManager coaches. So whenever a coach has a question or runs up against a problem, they can turn to their pod and their pod leader for help. And that works very, very well.

Wendy Hanson  11:43  

All those components really help us to be able to make sure that everybody is on the same page. And you want to make sure that if two people that are getting coached by BetterManager, are in the same organization, that they're having a similar experience in terms of the content and the library, so that people are not going off and doing their own thing. I always describe it as a bowling alley with bumper guards, you know, bring all your talents, put them in the bowling alley, but don't go past the bumper guards, right.

Karen Benz  12:17  

And it's not always easy to do, right? Because, you know, we're trained, we all have different training. And we've provided coaches with a structure to work within. So that's where the consistency and uniformity comes in. But really coaching is is an art form. It's it's a way of connecting with people and bringing them to their helping them reach their goals. And and so we coaches will use their own skills and talents and abilities within the coaching engagement that is their own. And it's not something where dictating. Yeah,

Wendy Hanson  13:00  

that's, that's so important because they need to, they need to be who they are. And it's just these parameters to make sure that we're all providing an experience. And based on feedback. We're doing okay at that.

Karen Benz  13:13  

Okay. Well, and I think in part, it's who we pick, right? It's who we are, who we see as being potentially great members of our coaching team. And we've been able to isolate what that looks like, and really search it out when we're interviewing coaches. And, and, as you said, the numbers prove we're doing okay, we're doing more than okay. Yeah, it is great.

Wendy Hanson  13:39  

And, and the fact that when coaches come in, we make sure that there's that good cultural fit in which is really important. They have to they and you can see it in the pods where they help each other and they work together. It's an amazing experience to watch them. I have a client that has this issue. Does anybody have any resources? They really do work well. And that's part of the culture we want to create, so that we are supporting each other?

Karen Benz  14:08  

Absolutely, absolutely.

Wendy Hanson  14:11  

So one of the exciting things is when managers or executives or new managers have Aha, us, we always talk about the odds in coaching, because it's when the light starts glowing or something. Oh, my God, I finally realized what that is. So see the light bulb go off? Right? You watch them? And then a lot of a lot of people will say, Oh, that's a great question. And you know that you've gotten them onto something that they just have not experienced before. And that's, that's kind of an AHA in itself. That's a great question. So share some of the examples of managers that you've coached than there are has because I think that will give our audience a good sense of what can happen in a coaching engagement.

Karen Benz  15:00  

Yeah, I love this question because it's really what truly energizes me about being an executive coach. I think for me, one of the most powerful AHA is and it's come up recently, is when clients move from frustration to compassion, when they look at a relationship, not as frustrating, but they look at it with compassion. And I'll give you an example. I had a client recently who was so frustrated with his direct report, because the direct report was complaining about the same thing over and over again. And the manager would offer suggestions, and the client wasn't taking the suggestions. And so we talked about how frustrating it was. And so I decided to take a different tact with him and talked about the dynamic between the two of them. We also talked about the direct reports, communication style, and the managers, communication style. And what I did was offer a different perspective by reframing the situation and said, what if? What if your direct report was hearing your suggestions as criticism, rather than a simply suggestions, and all of a sudden, the light bulb went off? And he said, You nailed it. That's it? And then I followed it with a question of is, if that's true, how could you support them. And it really shifted his mindset. And I could see him letting go of the frustration, and really embracing the possibility that, wow, maybe it's not my bad ideas. It's how it's being received. So you know, moments like that are really special, very special. Another example was, when I was coaching the head of 1000 person office, you can imagine the level of responsibility this person had, and he was brought in to straighten out a very chaotic situation. He was feeling overwhelmed, and he suffered from the imposter syndrome, you know, when people think somebody's going to find out that I don't know what I'm doing. And by pointing out to him that the skills that got you here are not necessarily the same skills that will get you there. It, it clicked for him. And so we explored so what else do you need to learn and do in order to be successful, you know, that all of us have a certain set of skills, but we have to continually grow and develop them. So he was incredibly relieved, and went on to be highly successful. And what was interesting is, once he stabilized things in that office, he had to develop another set of skills to maintain it. Because he didn't have to be as hard and driving, as he was during, you know, to mourn he was trying to make order. So those are some examples that come to mind.

Wendy Hanson  18:03  

Yeah, oh, I love those. Because I think, you know, that comes up so often. And on your first example, about when, when managers are trying to work with their direct reports and say, Well, do this, do this, try this, when you could open up a conversation with Can I make a suggestion of something else you might try, then you're actually opening up the person to listen. And I think that's a problem that managers they just, they want to get on and download. And we know as all the things we teach about doing one on ones is that it really is important for the individual that's on the team and the manager to be getting their needs met and for the manager to be saying, How can I support you? So it's a little different for people that have been a little bit more command and control in the past?

Karen Benz  18:53  

Absolutely. And and I think it's human nature to be somewhat egocentric and think that it's about you. And it's not always about you. It's it's often about the other person, and how they're receiving you. And so being, you know, being reflective and looking at that can be very helpful, and very powerful. Because you can learn a lot about yourself.

Wendy Hanson  19:21  

That's great. Another question that I have is, is there a difference between internal coaches in an organization and external coaches, where a company partners with an outside organization such as BetterManager, to be coaching people, and I know, each one has its, its good points? I'd love to hear your perspective on that.

Karen Benz  19:44  

Well, what we've seen and experienced is that organizations that are striving for a coaching culture will often use both internal and external coaches. One of the advantages of hiring an external coach like BetterManager And we hear this directly from our clients is that they appreciate having someone from the outside to talk to someone who isn't mired in the politics of the organization, or who might have a negative opinion of them. trust and rapport can be built much quickly. When you're from the outside. With internal coaching, I think it's a little more challenging to build that trust, where the client feels psychologically safe, and open enough to share sensitive information. It's a, you know, some of the problems when I think about the problems clients bring to us, sometimes it's about lacking confidence or having a difficult relationship at work. And those that might be hard for them to talk about somebody who's internal to the organization. And as external coaches, we have different perspectives, you get the benefit of having so many different ways of looking at issues when you're talking to an external coach.

Wendy Hanson  21:03  

Yeah, explain a little bit about perspectives, because we use that a lot in coaching. It's like having a different perspective, which people don't always realize,

Karen Benz  21:14  

well, I think clients in while on managers often get stuck in thinking a certain way about something, they have a belief about something. And by introducing a different way of looking at something, you're offering a different perspective, and getting them outside of their head. No, because we all get stuck in our heads and our own way of thinking about things, getting them to be reflective, to go up to the balcony, get off the dance floor, go up to the balcony and look at the situation with us from the from the balcony, can often shift the way they think in the way they feel about a situation which can change the direction of their management leadership. Really? Yeah, so it's a powerful coaching tool.

Wendy Hanson  22:05  

Yes, it is. And coaches talk about it a lot. So it's a good, it's a good thing for people to remember and think, what's another perspective on this that I could be taking? Because once you learn how to coach, you can also coach yourself, which is very valuable. What would my coach asked me today? And we always talk about the what questions how powerful and open ended and

Karen Benz  22:26  

why didn't how and avoiding the why.

Wendy Hanson  22:29  

Yes. Why did you do that? Karen? What do you mean?

Karen Benz  22:34  

What do you mean, makes me feel defensive?

Wendy Hanson  22:37  

Right. And I think that's just a normal thing for people to say, a manager, and they don't realize how it can knock somebody off their game, because it does sound like I'm about to criticize you. Why did you do that? That's right. That's right. So Karen, how do you walk the talk with your team of coaches when they need support and assistance with feedback? You know, how do you handle that?

Karen Benz  23:02  

Another great question, you know, we're a company whose integrity whose values include integrity and community. And to use the words of Brene. Brown, clear is kind and unclear is unkind. And I operate using those print that principle and our values every day, part of operating in integrity is being open and transparent about expectations. And if a coach, for example, receives a low score from a client, I'll talk with them about it to get their perspective, I'll also talk with the client and see how we can better meet their coaching needs. But that's being transparent, that's serving both the client and the coach in in my role, it's not at all, you know, I don't operate at all with with any impunity. It's, it's always a growth opportunity for the coach. And we do this all in the spirit of providing the highest quality coaching, we can. Yeah.

Wendy Hanson  24:04  

And being able to get that feedback coaches are so appreciative. Because if you're on your own as a coach, you don't always know what's working. And you don't always get the feedback that we get and share back with the coaches so that they know how they're doing so they can hit the mark.

Karen Benz  24:22  

Yeah. And our clients will give comments on their feedback about how this coaching has changed them, how it's changed their management career, how it's impacted them personally. And it's, it's just amazing. It's absolutely amazing.

Wendy Hanson  24:40  

Yeah, and the personal comes up a lot that I've learned things that really have helped me personally. And it's amazing in a, you know, the number of sessions that one can, can reach that kind of, you know, we do many numbers of sessions, you know, 610 12 But you know, you can really make a difference with someone if you're a really good coach. And if you use the directed coaching model to give them some hints of what they could be doing differently. So it is, you know, I get a little teary sometimes when I read some of the feedbacks, yes, yeah, I can't say them out loud, because it's like, I am so proud that we have a company that is really wants people to thrive at work. And whether it's an engineer in this company, no matter what the role is, in sales, we are all in for helping people thrive at work. And then if you're, if you're thriving, also, if you take some things that you can also learn in your life, you're having better, better balance. And, boy, it's been a hard time these last few years. So

Karen Benz  25:48  

yeah, and we, you know, we, it was interesting during the pandemic, to see how our business was impacted, and how companies needed us more than ever, because they were trying to navigate the pandemic, and hybrid working and all of that. And we were able to help them really process what was happening during that time. And it was, it was challenging for many people, and still is.

Wendy Hanson  26:16  

And I read a statistic that three out of five people are going to look for new jobs in 2023. So when you can add coaching, and coaching makes people feel valued, that they're good, they're they're worth an investment. Yeah.

Karen Benz  26:34  

It's not remedial, it's, it's an investment in them and in their development in their future.

Wendy Hanson  26:40  

Yeah, we don't fix people in coaching. And that comes up sometimes, you know, if the more that we tell people raise your hand, you know, tell, tell our HR leaders and l&d leaders, when you want to get the first group of people in, ask them to raise their hand and then that experience will go others will like wildfire. But if you pick people for coaching, that are having a problem, people know, and they say, Well, if John would need a tap coaching, then this must be remedial, or, you know, I get asked, that's not going to be a good thing. So we have to change that about coaching.

Karen Benz  27:18  

Right. And the other important point, I think, is that in order for coaching to be successful, the client has to be motivated. They have to be motivated to learn to grow, to confront things about themselves that they may not have have done in the past. And so it's it's really a commitment on their part to participate in the process.

Wendy Hanson  27:42  

Yeah, you can't just show up for each coaching session. There's a lot of work you have to do in the middle, right? Yeah, yeah. We want to, you know, the coaching is always about, you know, what are you taking away? And what are you going to do over these next few weeks? And then check back in again, so that you're we're seeing them change their behavior? And they are seeing, wow, when I did this differently, this happened? Yeah, for sure. Yeah. Well, thank you, Karen, so much. I hope everybody really get to hear a little bit, you know, really understand more about coaching. And the difference between coaching and therapy. And mentoring is coming up a lot now. But that is not coaching, you know, that's using your internal expertise. And maybe in the same company, I'm going to mentor you, or in the different fields. So there are a lot of things that we don't want to confuse coaching with. And we've just seen, it's heartwarming to see what coaching can do and how it can help people lead better lives.

Karen Benz  28:45  

Yeah. And thank you for having me. Oh, pleasure.

Wendy Hanson  28:49  

Yes. I'll talk to you at the next meeting. All right. All right. Thank you, everybody, for tuning in. Please write anything on the website. If you have feedback. You're always welcome to Write to me wendy@bettermanager.us. If you have questions or other ideas, we are all ears for you. So thank you have the most marvelous day.

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