As the COVID-19 pandemic has unfolded, organizations and leaders have faced tremendous pressure to keep customers, employees and communities safe while safeguarding financial performance and company assets. In a matter of weeks, the global landscape has changed drastically. Learning and development (L&D) leaders may expect major cuts to training and development budgets, as they are often the most vulnerable departments to target when a business needs to cut expenses and preserve capital. According to a global survey PwC conducted in April, a majority of chief financial officers are actively considering cost containment strategies and deferring or canceling planned investments.
The L&D leader’s mandate is to wisely steward the use of training and development resources and expertise in good times and bad. Although there is a strong impulse to cut this spending quickly, it’s important to advocate for a more precise and strategic approach, particularly with leadership coaching. Following are four reasons why now — and the months ahead — are a crucial time for organizations to invest in coaching for high-potential leaders and others in critical roles.
Why Leadership Coaching Is Crucial in a Crisis
1. It Lessens Decision-making Risk
Senior leaders are making important decisions more quickly, with more ambiguity and with more pressure than during “normal” times. The consequences of one poor decision could mean life or death for customers, employees or the organization. Under stress, even the best leaders are prone to impaired judgment and reduced creativity. A leadership coach mitigates this risk by being an independent thought partner who challenges a leader’s thinking and brings a different perspective.
2. It Provides Clarity
When leaders are making high-stakes decisions in uncharted territory, many may hesitate to act, especially when charged with making difficult decisions about employee layoffs or halting operations for an emerging safety concern that is not yet fully understood. While this hesitancy is to be expected, especially for untested high-potential leaders, making decisions too slowly can have disastrous consequences during a pandemic. Coaching provides leaders with thinking space to consider their biggest decisions and helps them gain the confidence and energy to act at the pace this environment demands.
3. It Helps Foster Personal Resilience
Often, the most admired leaders put others before themselves. They work tirelessly to meet the needs of their customers, teams, peers and shareholders. But this selflessness can have disadvantages, especially during an extended crisis. Leaders can wear themselves out with long hours, intellectual overload from the barrage of problems that run mundane to complex and the emotional load of helping everyone else while keeping the business afloat.
The risk of burnout is already high and compounded by the pandemic-induced economic challenges — known and unknown — that lie ahead. Leaders who ignore their physical, emotional and cognitive states now won’t be able to effectively lead later, when they’re still needed. Leadership coaching helps leaders check in with themselves, gauge their limits, and manage their energy and resilience for the long haul.
4. It Maximizes Learning
There are and will continue to be silver linings to this situation. For example, this environment presents fertile ground for real-time, on-the-job learning and development for leaders, especially high-potential leaders. However, without conscious thought and a learning mindset, leaders run the risk of missing the myriad learning opportunities in front of them. Coaches can help leaders see these opportunities and learn from their own and others’ experiences.
Optimize the Experience Using Technology
Virtual coaching, with live, technology-enabled connections between leader and coach, has long been an effective medium around the world, despite lingering apprehension in some organizations about its use. If connecting virtually is a relatively new experience, it can help leaders reset their normal patterns of thinking and behavior, like how taking a different route to the office offers a new perspective on a known routine. For leaders, there is also a benefit to being in the comfort of their own space when they meet with a coach.
If your leaders are reluctant about virtual coaching, here are three simple ways to help them make the most of their experience:
1. Ensure They Know the Technology
Most video conference and other technology platforms where a leader and coach connect are easy to use and secure. Ensure that leaders are familiar with the functionality. There are countless sources of helpful information available to help, especially now.
2. Use the Camera
Video beats voice-only solutions in almost every instance. It strengthens focus and presence and helps facilitate cues related to verbal and non-verbal communication. The flexibility to avert eye-to-eye contact when video conferencing actually encourages leaders and coaches to go even deeper into the issues.
3. Embrace Authentic Connection
Virtual coaching provides permission to engage more authentically. By putting dress codes and traditional norms aside, people can create faster and more personal connections, which translates into deeper trust and helps leaders reach core issues sooner, not just in session but over the course of the relationship.
Managing through and beyond the COVID-19 crisis requires strong leadership and bold action. Aggressively managing expenses will be necessary but shouldn’t come at the cost of supporting high-potential leaders and employees in other critical roles at a time when they — and the business — need it most. Virtual coaching is an effective way for leaders to work with coaches, which is good news, as social distancing measures and work from home will likely remain in place for some time.