The last year has taught many lessons in agility, perseverance, resilience and leadership. Leaders have been asked to lead empathetically and effectively with few answers and no script — while preparing for the future.

No one knows the answers during these unusual times. What we do know is that organizations that foster a coaching culture and coaching mindset into their day-to-day work provide the type of leadership that is imperative during times of change and that will continue to serve the organization long after things return to “normal.”

Leading Now

Your people are tired, anxious and stressed. We all are. Recognizing this emotional and mental state means that we need to adapt to meet the needs of the people who are counting on us. It also means taking time to make sure that we are well-resourced and aware of our own energy. Challenging times require empathetic leadership, which can look different in different organizations and teams. However, there are some standard approaches that work across workplace cultures.

In his book “The Pause Principle,” Korn Ferry’s Kevin Cashman encourages reflection alongside action as an approach to navigating an evolving environment and organizational expectations. This strategy pairs well with the concept of “leader as coach,” because a coaching mindset requires active listening and reflection. A coaching approach also gives your team permission to pause and reflect on what they already know — which, often, is quite a bit.

Both “the Pause Principle” and coaching look at problem-solving in new ways. A coaching approach helps leaders guide their employees to discover the knowledge and expertise they already have and identify skill areas to develop to address the problems at hand. Good coaches don’t need to have all the answers; they just need to help their players use their skills to find them.

Some simple reflection questions include:

    • What might be another way of looking at this issue?
    • How would we consider solving this problem if we were new to the team?
    • What questions would we ask if we were our customer?

Coaching in a Virtual Workplace

The virtual environment in which many of us are currently working can present some challenges to a coaching approach to leadership. Following a few simple tips can improve your coaching conversations:

Firstly, for both one-on-one and group video calls, make sure your camera is on. In fact, use video calls rather than the telephone whenever possible. Face-to-face communication provides more visual cues and information to understand the level of the challenges your employee is facing. It also builds trust and credibility, because they can see your reactions and know that your full attention is on the current conversation.

Secondly, create space for team members to check in and share what is happening with them, both personally and professionally. More than ever before, it is important to understand the complexity in which your employees are working.

Finally, stay present! It’s difficult in a virtual meeting not to be distracted by texts, email or other electronic disruptions. Effective active listening requires you to set the phone aside, turn off your email and minimize distractions, so you can stay fully connected to the team member or members you’re meeting with.

Anticipating a New Future

As a leader, your actions today build the trust and credibility you need as your team moves toward an ambiguous future. As a coach, you can equip your team with problem-solving skills and permission to bring forward their own solutions. Your leadership will support a team dynamic of innovation by trusting the wisdom inherent in your team.

Sound too good or easy to be true? In Daniel Coyle’s book “The Culture Code,” he provides research-backed insights into the elements of a strong and healthy culture. Organizations with a coaching culture have characteristics that position them for success in uncertain times: Employees feel empowered and engaged and feel a strong and positive connection to their leader. Furthermore, DDI’s recent “Global Leadership Development Forecast” research found that the next generation of leaders (employees who don’t have formal leadership responsibilities today) want even more coaching and feedback from their leaders.

As you lead, make a point of checking in with your own emotions about returning to the ways of working that were typical of pre-pandemic times. Awareness of uncertainty or reservations about returning to the “way things used to be” will help you lead empathetically and authentically. It may be helpful to assess for yourself and with your team any aspects of pandemic-constrained work that you want to continue. A similar assessment of work elements that need to come back will be equally important. Consider doing a simple “start, stop, continue” exercise for yourself and then coaching your team through the same. Your team members will appreciate the opportunity to share their experiences and opinions.

Continued opportunities for feedback and discussion, virtually and in person when safe, will be essential. One of the best things you can do as a leader is demonstrate that you are listening and aware of challenges — work-related, of course, but also general stressors. It’s also OK to share what has been challenging for you. Being vulnerable about your own challenges will increase trust with your team.

What to Do Next

Now you know how a coaching approach, with a focus on employee input, can help your team through the transition from the active pandemic period to a future state. Here are a few reflection questions to start your coaching journey with empathy and grace:

    • When can you build reflection into your interactions?
    • How can you demonstrate active and engaged listening?
    • How can you check in and reflect on your own resilience and grit?
    • Who will support you and hold you accountable to your desired behaviors?
    • How will you demonstrate and support the importance of self-care and balance with your team?

Want to learn more on this topic? Sign up for the virtual Training Industry Conference & Expo, and attend Holly and Jill’s live session.