Coaching is essential for helping employers survive the global lockdown during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to US leadership coach Heidi Lynne Kurter.
In a recent article (Forbes, 23 March 2020), Kurter cites coaching as a vital resource for organisational resilience amid an unprecedented upheaval of business conditions, noting: “The greatest challenge management faces is being able to find a balance between being empathetic and authoritative. In addition, they’re haphazardly trying to learn the necessary skills to lead their newly remote team.
“As the C-suite scrambles to establish a business continuity plan and pivot the business to meet the current economic needs, they’re less available to provide the training their managers require to thrive during Covid-19.”
She points out: “Employees are a company’s most valuable asset and if [firms] want to survive and succeed this crisis they need to invest in developing their managers. Investing in the development of management can be done without spending money. In fact, sometimes the best development is done by leveraging existing resources.”
With that in mind, Kurter recommends virtual coaching, writing: “Coaches are trusted confidants that have the best interests of the individual and company at all times. By asking powerful and thought-provoking questions, coaches help managers identify innovative solutions, draw on strengths and improve weaknesses, establish new habits, be empowered to implement new strategies to improve their time management, communication, relationships and hone their leadership soft skills.”
Kurter adds: “Many might be reading this rolling their eyes right now as they adopt a leaner approach during the Covid-19 crisis. However, it’s in times of crisis when the stability of a business is tested. If managers lack the skills to drive their team forward, their poor leadership will not only hold back their employees but also the company. When managers are well-equipped and confident to lead their team, their employees are happier, more productive and are high achieving performers. Likewise, job satisfaction and retention increase.”
Is Kurter correct in her assessment? And if so, how best can coaching be conducted between individuals who are unable to meet in person?
The Institute of Leadership & Management’s head of research, policy and standards Kate Cooper says: “When we undertook research several years ago on coaching – and the experience of being coached – one message that emerged very clearly was how much people valued someone listening to them, being interested in them, wanting the best for them and being on their side. And essentially, those things are what coaching is all about.”
She explains: “Within those areas, some of the classic techniques of coaching are i) building rapport, ii) asking open-ended questions, iii) following up with further questions to show that you’ve been listening, iv) ensuring that your questions are challenging, but not critical, iv) showing how interested you are in the coachee doing well and v) putting a contract in place, whereby you set expectations for the sort of goals and benchmarks the coaching intervention aims to help the coachee achieve.
“As a leader, you can take all of those techniques and put them in an everyday context – relating to your colleagues and the people you manage – and say: ‘I want them to be the best they can be, because that helps me to be the best I can be. I want to have a rapport with them. I’m interested in them. I want to demonstrate that I’m listening to them, and I will do that by remembering what they’ve told me and asking more questions.’ All those features of coaching are also features of good management.”
Cooper notes: “One major factor of teleconferencing is that you must listen so much more intently to what the other speakers are saying. So we are encouraging leaders to take their online team updates as opportunities to learn, develop and hone their coaching skills. If colleagues at different organisational levels can get together in twos on their preferred virtual meeting platform, they can have an absolutely valid go at using the fundamentals of coaching – eg, suspending judgment, not finishing the other person’s sentences and not dispensing hard advice. Practicing those elements is not just great leadership – it’s great fun, too. So, with all that in mind, the points that Kurter makes in her column are brilliant.”
She adds: “Learning how to talk to each other in a coaching style has lasting benefits. It transforms the way you relate to people – particularly how you conduct difficult conversations, which become more manageable with the aid of a coaching approach.”