Complex times: how can an executive coach help?

The arrival of the COVID-19 has impacted just about every aspect of our lives. It prevents us from working together face-to-face. For some it means looking after children while we work. For some it means housemates setting up working stations in a crowded living space. For some it means loneliness. For all of us it means worrying about our loved ones, especially if they live far away. Sudden, impactful change inevitably evokes anxiety and stress. Our first response is to just keep doing what we do, fervently hoping that this is all over quickly.

At times like this, good leaders have the capacity to ‘swivel on a sixpence’. They make time to be available to others and acknowledge how others are feeling. They understand the need we all have to feel connected. And they make sense of what is happening and find a new purpose and direction. They acknowledge their own fear, as we all must, but they quickly recognise that is also a time for learning. They switch quickly from a wait-and-hope mindset to a goal-oriented mindset.

The effective leader, like all of us, is looking forward to when it will be over. At the same time, the good leader is setting a new agenda. She is already engaging her team in aligning around a purpose, although now this purpose is in a new context, helping them understand what an important role they have to play, not just for their organisation, but for society. Right now, everyone needs the economy to stand up as best it can. And everyone with a job has a role in making it happen. It is the role of the leader to lead the way.

How can a coach help in this situation?

First, the coach can help the leader reflect on her own fears and anxieties. We all have them. The coach helps the leader find clarity on what his fears and anxieties are. When we clarify what we are afraid of, fear becomes easier to manage.

Second, the coach helps the leader make sense of today’s new reality. So much has changed. What does it all mean? The coach helps the leader become grounded.

Third, the coach helps the leader transition from a wait-and-hope mindset to a goal-oriented mindset. We all need time to talk about our uncertainties and our anxieties. To talk out loud about what we have lost and where we are struggling. The coach makes time for that conversation. And the coach asks ‘what have you learned about yourself during this last few weeks? What have you learned about yourself as leader?’ And based on what you have learned, what will you do next? Now is not a time for perfectionists. Now is a time for making decisions in the knowledge the outcome of those decisions is uncertain. If things don’t go as planned, great leaders don’t berate themselves and others. They encourage others to learn and adapt and move ahead powerfully.

In short, the coach provides a reflective space for the leader to make meaning of her feelings, to make meaning of events, and to learn how to become an even better leader.

Faced by today’s challenges, some leaders have put aside learning until they have more time. The best leaders however, recognise that the events of today represent the best opportunity they have ever had in their entire career to learn. Coaches add more value at times like these than at any other time, because coaches enable learning and leading with courage.

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