4 Tips Leaders Need to Follow to Coach Through a Pandemic

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May 14, 2020

Let’s face it, the trappings, expectations, and demands of being a manager have changed recently, along with our experience of, well, just about everything else.   Instead of donning an expensive suit, commuting to a high-rise office building, and strutting to a corner office with a view, your morning routine is more likely to be changing out of your “nighttime pajamas” and into your “daytime pajamas,” descending to your makeshift home office in the basement, and juggling your 3-year old with peanut butter toast in her hand onto your lap while logging into your first Zoom meeting of the day.

The routines, expectations, and needs of your employees have also changed dramatically.  It seems like it has been a very long time since anyone’s level of stress has been at a manageable level, and is likely to be much longer before we attain our equilibrium again.

It’s likely to be quite some time before we understand what the impact of a global pandemic has on leadership principles.   Yet, especially in the midst of chaos, leadership requires agility and courage to dig deep and draw upon the skills that you have spent a career building.

Perhaps now more than ever, the leader’s role as a coach can be your most influential, powerful position.  A coach’s primary focus is on bringing out the best in others from the position of mutual trust and respect.  How can you offer comfort and psychological safety to your employees during a crisis?  Here are some coaching tips to guide you and your team members through the challenging days ahead.

1. Nurture genuine connections

One unintended benefit of the expansion of working from home is that is has blended the boundaries between work and life, allowing more humanness to infuse the world of work.  It is hard not to connect with your manager when his grade-school aged child is draped over his shoulders during a team meeting, asking what everyone’s name is, or perhaps offering an unsolicited answer to a business question.  Allowing your human side to be more accessible to your employees is one way of building connections.

2. Ask more open-ended questions

Leaders are often most comfortable when they are fixing problems, providing answers, and telling others what to do.  Conversely, employees are looking for guidance and support, not leaders who have all the answers. Coaching leaders ask more questions, encouraging intellectual curiosity and creative problem solving, which can be much more effective than conventional solutions today. Another benefit of asking what employees want, feel, think, or need is that they will be inclined to feel more valued, engaged, and willing to exhibit independent initiative.

3. Tap into your employees’ intrinsic motivation and potential

Coaching leaders approach their employees with an understanding and acceptance of who they are and look for ways for them to do work that they love to do.  Your role as a leader is to set and expect high expectations, bring clarity to the assignment, provide access to the tools and resources employees will need to be successful, and guide them along the way with feedback and accountability.

4. Develop your emotional intelligence and resilience

Being a coaching leader requires that you begin with self-awareness and acceptance.  Be kind and generous to others and to yourself.   Learn to hold two conflicting truths at the same time:  confidence with humility, optimism with realism, truthfulness with compassion.

Just as it may be a very long time before we understand the impact of a pandemic on leadership principles, it may be a very long time until you see the results of coaching employees through this period of unprecedented uncertainty.  You can, however, discover satisfaction and gratitude in knowing that you are doing your best to create a sense of belonging, creativity, engagement, and stamina at the time when we need them most.