Coaching During COVID-19

A colleague asked me recently, “What’s it like? You know … coaching during COVID-19?”

The havoc wreaked on my world this past year thrust me into a treasure hunt. I resolved to mine my experience for any gifts it could offer and chose steadfast coaches and confidants to be my “co-navigators” through this season.

A coach without coaches and mentors is not an effective (or healthy) coach for long.

What Has Coaching Accomplished so Far?

Painting with broad brush strokes for just a moment: Many leaders with access to coaching over recent months appear to have made valuable progress on two fronts—business and people—and on some or all of four key issues:

  1. How to find elusive clarity for decisions as business (as life!) remains in a certain level of upheaval and change.
  2. How to communicate decisions and execute action plans across a workforce of (likely) 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.

COVID is still with us and, sadly, simply turning the calendar to 2021 did not allow us to leave as much behind as most of us had hoped. I continue to work alongside my clients amidst these issues on the premise that effective leaders “do” leadership with, not to people. The Situational Leadership® Model has become even more integral to my Executive Coaching practice. It enables leaders at all levels to build optimal influence that results in deeper communication and improved performance with all stakeholders. No matter the season.

What Can Coaching Do as we Emerge From COVID-19?

A coach avoids giving or leading someone to directives and directions—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 (not the coach) 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.

What Value Can Coaching Bring as Leaders Address These Issues?

Coaching helps C-suite veterans and front-line managers alike to “take one day at a time.” It is a well-worn cliché but could not be more relevant! Evolving hybrids of “the new normal” now last weeks at a time as opposed to the daily and hourly shifting of six to nine months ago. There are still days and weeks where 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. Dr. Paul Hersey, our founder, wisely noted that, “The worst thing we can do is to treat everyone the same.” Another sage has said, “Fairness is not treating everyone the same, but giving everyone exactly what they need.

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—employees accomplishing their deliverables with excellence while experiencing the fulfillment of meaningful work that accomplishes the mission. 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—a judgment-free zone where we can uncover personal and professional bias and blind spots. It has been humbling to be welcomed into some very vulnerable places, coaching through the lens of a model that is independent of culture, gender and status and watch a more compassionate and equitable leader emerge. This approach allows each person’s value—not only to projects and deliverables, but to the team and organization—be brought to light and celebrated (success through diversity) which results in a sense of personal worth and belonging (engagement through inclusion).

Coaching During COVID-19” has been a challenge—and we aren’t through it quite yet—but resilience is emerging as a prize well worth pursuing. Look around you. See who you have or will engage as co-navigators to help you mine your own treasure in the months ahead.