Coaching During COVID-19

COVID-19 turned the world upside down in 2020. As it did on all things, COVID impacted the ways people lead and coach.

While the pandemic has now largely ended, there is still value in learning how to lead through COVID-19 and other disruptions.

What Did We Learn From COVID-19?

Many leaders with access to coaching during the pandemic made valuable progress on two fronts and on some or all of four key issues:

  1. How to find elusive clarity for decisions as businesses were in a certain level of upheaval and change.
  2. How to communicate decisions and execute action plans across a workforce of both remote/virtual and physically distanced teams.
  3. The importance of relating to, if not understanding and even empathizing with, the needs and concerns of their people.
  4. How to personally, as well as corporately, respond to the need and urgent priority of being genuinely equitable and inclusive to all.

How To Lead Through COVID-19 & Other Disruptions

Take a Break

Due to the challenges so many organizations are facing, leaders at every level are working harder than ever before to ensure as few people as possible are laid off, furloughed or forced into taking a pay cut. In the face of dire consequences, this is the right impulse and it will help. At a minimum, you must show your team that you are willing to put in the effort with this much on the line and sometimes your extra efforts will in fact save jobs and keep the paychecks for others coming. And, even though it may seem selfish to take a real break, it is critically important that you have enough energy to get yourself and your team through this entire crisis. Spend time doing something you enjoy and something that replenishes or reenergizes you. Take care of yourself because everybody around you needs you at your best for the long haul!

Ask for Help

At some point, there will be a waning level of enthusiasm for your attempts at motivating your team to work harder than ever before. For many, as time drags on, there will be a growing urge from people to want to get back to their normal lives. As dissatisfaction grows, there is a natural tendency to look to the one in charge as the source of it. Spend some time with your closest team members to ask them for their insights and perspectives on what needs to be done to help keep their teammates engaged and focused.

Reset and Push to the Finish Line

Leaders must remember that their primary role in all of this is providing appropriate levels of direction and support to their team members based on their individual needs at the time. It is beyond important to take care of yourself and ask others to share the burden. So please keep the following in mind as you attempt to do so:

  • Take a break so you can be fresh enough to put in full effort and minimize the consequences you and your team may face
  • Ask for help so you can keep your team motivated enough to keep working and achieving whatever it is you must achieve Your role in all of this is as a leader. Before any of this happened, you sought and were given a position that makes you ultimately responsible for the careers of others. Take care of yourself so you can work hard enough and push hard enough to get them through this

Stay Connected

Although you may have no new direction to provide and they have already heard your same attempts at motivation countless times, don’t stop communicating! In times of crisis, the worst thing for a leader to do is go dark.

Even if you do not have new directives or updates, stay in touch. If you are not filling the information void for your team, they will fill it themselves and, in all likelihood, with something that is anything but positive. Be sure to communicate with your team on an almost daily basis.

Work on You

Whether your future problems come from working in an organization that is growing too quickly, stagnating or rapidly declining, you will be best prepared to face these challenges by improving yourself. Take an honest account of yourself as a leader so you can develop and put a plan into action that will elevate your ability to effectively respond to the challenges that are on the horizon.

Challenge Others To Take Charge

It’s never been more important to challenge your followers to communicate their needs to you openly and clearly. Whether the need is for direction, a new set of tasks or support and understanding for coping with and navigating through these difficult challenges, you are going to need their help in letting you know what is needed. Work hard to understand the challenges they are facing and ask them to tell you in their own words what you can do to help them be successful.

Set Daily Priorities

Once you better understand what your team is going through by working with them to keep you informed on their needs, be sure to clearly communicate daily priorities. Do not assume that anyone on your team will be able to perform at the same level they did a few weeks ago with this level of change and stress. Clear team objectives, role definitions and personal activities will have to be regularly communicated throughout this week and beyond. If roles have shifted drastically, you will have to put even more time, effort and energy into providing specifics that will enable individuals to complete their new goals to standard.

What Can Coaching Do Emerging From COVID-19?

A coach avoids giving or leading someone to directives and directions as that is the work of consultants. An effective coach works with the leader to broaden their awareness of the situation and what might be available to them, internally and externally, as viable resources. These illuminate possible paths. The leader/coachee then determines the way forward.

This is crucial, particularly in the aftermath of COVID-19, as the most resilient leaders are emerging now for the next era. These leaders must have a compelling mixture of strength and confidence that shows up unapologetically through humility and care.

How To Lead Through The Return From COVID-19 & Other Disruptions

Provide Support and Direction

At the end of the day, this is what a leader does. They provide varying levels of support and direction. When a follower is looking to you for leadership, they need you to do one or both of those things. When a follower is frustrated by your approach, it is often because you are doing too much of one or not enough of the other. Supplying the appropriate amount of support and direction is incredibly difficult to do and it takes a great deal of “perfect practice,” but it really is that simple. When we are faced with a crisis and a high degree of change, people on your team will feel less secure and will be less capable of performing their key job functions. This will lead to an increased need for you to provide high levels of both support and direction.

Credibility, Believability and Trust

You may have the title but that by no means guarantees that you have the room. You are the leader which means your organization has granted you a certain amount of authority to make and implement decisions. This power granted by your organization will give you the potential to influence to a degree but, in and of itself, is unlikely to get you the results you need to be successful long term. The disruption has provided you with a fantastic opportunity to build referent power and respect with your team. Building this reputation with your team takes a lot of time, and the only thing that can shorten this time frame are circumstances like this. If you really want to achieve results of significance as a leader, you will have to do so with your team by behaving in a way that proves you are credible, believable and trustworthy moving forward.

Set the Tone

Whether your organization did well or poorly during the period of disruption, you are going to have to continue working at a much higher than normal pace for the foreseeable future. Whether you saw an unexpected spike in demand and you have to go back to build in structure or you saw a drop in demand and have to bounce back quickly in order to avoid further consequences, you are going to have to continue working at a higher level for months to come. Share this truth openly and honestly with your team and do what you must do to keep them motivated throughout. It is also important to let them know that, even though it has been and will continue to be a very difficult stretch, this will end at some point.

Know Every Return is Different

Disruption impacts every person differently. Understand that certain members of your team may not be able to come back and work normally just because others in your organization begin to do so. Start communicating the plan to your team members so you can better understand what is possible for them personally. Develop your plan and communicate expectations to your team based on the outcome of these conversations and extend understanding to people that do not feel comfortable returning to normal for whatever reason.

The Benefits of Coaching During Disruption

Coaching helps C-suite veterans and front-line managers alike to take one day at a time. Evolving hybrids of the new normal now last weeks at a time as opposed to the daily and hourly shifting. There are still days and weeks when curveballs come faster or more frequently than others. A coach helps us to become fully aware of our emotional and physiological reactions to the stress that change brings and provides accountability for the behavior change we decide will make us more consistent leaders and better humans.

Coaching through the lens of the Situational Leadership® helps leaders separate and state the issues clearly, then diagnose the readiness of all parties involved to handle each issue. This taking stock reduces overwhelm so the leader can adapt by crafting a reasonable plan, then communicate and execute the plan with and through others.

Coaching helps leaders to uncover what will work best for them and their team now and for the days ahead. When each person in your sphere of influence is considered individually through one framework, such as the Situational Leadership® methodology, every person can be treated equitably.

Situational Coaching® prepares the leader to offer optimal amounts of direction and support needed for every task or concern. The targets of a leader’s influence are success and engagement. Deliberate and thoughtful discussion of these two key elements brings revelatory conversation, whether 6 feet apart with masks on or virtually through a computer screen.

Finally, coaching can provide a safe place for self-examination. This approach allows each person’s value, not only to projects and deliverables but to the team and organization to be brought to light and celebrated.