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Happy Thursday! For this week’s article breakdowns, we’re focusing on manager coaching. While we know that manager coaching is related to learning, studies are getting a bit more in-depth. The questions we answer this week are:

  • Does management style impact employee learning differently based on regulatory focus?
  • Which managerial skills promote employee learning and commitment?

Now, let’s get our head in the game!

Differentiating Manager Coaching Behaviors

Fostering an environment at work that supports employee learning is crucial. While creating engaging training or telling learners to take notes are also huge factors, how the day-to-day environment feels is just as important. One aspect of the everyday work environment is our manager. We know that managers are important factors for employee learning, particularly as coaches (see: LSW Issue 36), but there is little research on how their specific behaviors may impact learning outcomes. The current research assessed two styles of managerial coaching, “encourage-to-explore” and “guide-to-learn” behaviors, and their relationship to employee learning orientation. The “encourage-to-explore” behaviors are ones where leaders “expect and encourage followers to engage in exploration or discovery learning, where minimal guidance is provided” (Liu & Xiang, 2020). “Guide-to-learn” behaviors are those when leaders provide “employees with specific direction, learning frames, and feedback on tasks” (Liu & Xiang, 2020).

Since it is unlikely that one leadership style will suit all employees best, the researchers sought to understand how employee regulatory focus may impact the coaching-learning relationship (Liu & Xiang, 2020). Regulatory focus theory hones in on two types of motivational orientation: promotion focused and prevention focus (Higgins, 1998). As one might imagine, promotion-focused emphasizes gains, while prevention-focused centers around keeping losses at bay.

Two studies were conducted to evaluate the relationships. The first study provided participants with leadership scenarios; they were either in the “encourage-to-explore” or “guide-to-learn” group. Participants were also given the promotion/prevention scales to measure their regulatory focus and a learning orientation assessment (Liu & Xiang, 2020). The results from this first study showed that encourage-to-explore behaviors were related to higher learning orientation. Further, it illustrated that for those with a low level of promotion focus, more encourage-to-explore behaviors related to “greater learning orientation.” It was also found that for individuals with high prevention focus, more guide-to-learn behaviors led to lower learning orientation (Liu & Xiang, 2020).

The follow-up study was conducted in a workplace context with employee and supervisor pairs to ensure real-world generalizability. Supervisors completed a coaching behavior questionnaire, while employees took the regulatory focus and learning orientation scales (Liu & Xiang, 2020). The results echoed study 1, with support for the main findings mentioned above. For those with a low promotion focus, more encourage-to-explore behaviors induced higher employee learning. However, the relationship was more complex for the guide-to-learn behaviors with an inverted u-shaped relationship. For those with a low prevention focus, a moderate amount of guide-to-learn behavior seems best, as too much leads to a decrease in learning orientation. Figures of these relationships are below (Liu & Xiang, 2020).

(Liu & Xiang, 2020)
(Liu & Xiang, 2020)

So, what are the practical implications here? Managers should adopt “appropriate coaching styles” (Liu & Xiang, 2020). Considering both managerial behaviors do aid in promoting employee learning, if managers are not able to provide in-depth guidance, “encourage-to-explore” would be a viable option to prompt learning (Liu & Xiang, 2020). Further, regulatory focus should be part of the discussion regarding coaching, as those with higher levels of regulatory focus do not appear to require as much coaching. Thus, managers can adjust their coaching time to focus on those with lower levels of regulatory focus (Liu & Xiang, 2020).

Key Takeaway: Employee regulatory focus should be considered alongside managerial coaching behaviors to promote learning. Depending on whether employees are high/low in regulatory control, managers may need to adjust their coaching behaviors.

Read More (Open Access): Liu, W., & Xiang, S. (2020). The Effect of Leaders’ Coaching Behaviors on Employee Learning Orientation: A Regulatory Focus Perspective. Frontiers in Psychology, 11.

People Over Projects & Other Important Managerial Skills

The second article this week identifies particular traits in managerial coaching and their impact on employee learning. Park, McLean, and Yang (2021) evaluated the relationship between managerial coaching and employees’ learning and organizational commitment. Utilizing a revised coaching instrument, questionnaires were distributed throughout a global technology based in the USA. Additionally, employees’ personal learning, how much they’ve learned under their manager, and organizational commitment, if they identify with and are loyal to the organization, were also measured (Park et al., 2021).

For managerial coaching, five skills were identified to fit the model:

  • Open communication - having an open exchange of feelings, thoughts, and information between managers and employees.
  • Team approach - treating employees as partners and working together, rather than as a “commander” or “controller.”
  • Value people over task - having genuine concern for others and their needs.
  • Accept ambiguity - being open to new ideas and embracing that uncertainty can lead to opportunities.
  • Facilitate employees’ development - considering employees needs for growth and adjusting specific coaching behaviors to meet those needs (providing feedback, encouragement, etc.).

The results supported past work by illustrating that managerial coaching skills were significantly and positively related to employees’ personal learning, as well as organizational commitment (Park et al., 2021). An interesting point in this relationship was that employees’ personal learning positively linked to organizational commitment. When employees had a positive view of their learning, their organizational commitment increased (Park et al., 2021).

Ultimately, this work adds to the scientific literature that emphasizes the importance of managerial coaching for employee learning. It also expands past work by adding to the coaching skills, which help to point toward which skills managers should have to promote employee learning and organizational commitment. The coaching instrument utilized in this work is also a viable way to assess managers’ skills!

Key Takeaway: Managerial coaching has a direct impact on employee learning and development. Managers should focus on building skills in the five areas identified (open communication, team approach, value people, accept ambiguity, and facilitate development).

Read More ($): Park, S., McLean, G. N., & Yang, B. (2021). Impact of managerial coaching skills on employee commitment: the role of personal learning. European Journal of Training and Development, 45.

Pets of Learning Science Weekly

Thanks to reader Stanley Y., we have a lovely floof named Bailey to improve your reading experience!

“She is curious, playful, and can be a stubborn learner. However yummy treats will usually go a long way to support any instruction and operant conditioning learning.“ I, for one, can relate to the “treats going a long way” sentiment 😂

Send us your pet pics at

Wondering why we’re including animal photos in a learning science newsletter? It may seem weird, we admit. But we’re banking on the baby schema effect and the “power of Kawaii.” So, send us your cute pet pics -- you’re helping us all learn better!

The LSW Crew

Learning Science Weekly is written and edited by Kaitlyn Erhardt, Ph.D.

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