Leaders are currently carrying the world on their shoulders. The responsibilities for people’s livelihoods, as well as their health and wellbeing, weigh heavy. There is so much to think about – so much of which you won’t have planned for. These are testing times and it will be vital for you to build your personal resilience and pay attention to your own wellbeing.
This is where coaching can help. We appreciate you may not be in a position to benefit from working with a consultant to coach you through this. However, you can draw on the insights that a strengths-based approach to coaching can offer. At times like these, you need to be authentic and true to yourself. Under this kind of pressure, if you try to be anything else, you won’t make it. So, ask yourself: how are you ‘showing up’ as a leader?
Be clear about where your strengths lie
It would be easy to feel overwhelmed, given the situation. As we’ve seen, it is a feeling that can send us into overdrive. As a result, we automatically focus on our gaps and where we think we don’t quite hit the mark. This is where a good coach will tell you to stop and turn the focus on its head.
What is it that only you bring to the team? What do you excel at? What do you do that you know helps people? Turn up the volume on these things and do more of them!
Yes, we all have ‘weaknesses’ (often these are over-played strengths!). Know what yours are and do enough to stop them tripping you up. Give yourself permission as a leader to say: ‘This isn’t my strength, could you help me with this?’. Authenticity as a leader will be the differentiator in all of this. You need to get closer to the person that you already are. The behaviour that you exhibit during this time (whether consciously or otherwise) is infectious and will have an impact. Be clear on the messages that you want to put out there. Be the message.
We are all individuals
The same is true for your teams. You are surrounded by a group of individuals who all have different skills, strengths and ways of seeing the world. This is an advantage and, when they are complementary and deliberately tapped into, can dramatically increase performance. The same is true of motivation – we are all motivated by different things and have different needs. This will be highlighted now as we are all having to adjust to new ways of working – for some people quite dramatically so. You won’t automatically know what will work for your people. You must make it your mission, however, to find out. And keep asking them as we move through this.
Coaches work with teams to align work to individual strengths. Not only will this maximise performance, but it will also help drive engagement as, invariably, when people are good at something, they enjoy it; when they’re playing to their strengths, they know they are making a difference.
Also, be alert to the skills and strengths that people demonstrate during a time of crisis. These may sit outside of their usual job role but could be extremely useful right now. Avoid pigeonholing people and try to think outside of the box (and if this isn’t your strength, find someone for whom it is).
The difficult conversations
The current circumstances may require you to have potentially difficult conversations about ways of working or changes to contracts, hours, job roles… It is never easy knowing that you are going to be impacting the life of someone that works for you – nor should it be. As any good coach will tell you, the first thing we can do to help ourselves is to lose that expectation.
It is useful to think about the message that you want the individual to take from the conversation – what do they ultimately need to know? Be clear with your messaging. As Brené Brown says (and I come back to this time and time again): ‘Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.’ There is always a risk attached to the things that we say. However, there is also risk present when we choose not to say something or deliberately avoid an issue. Consider on which side of this fence you want to sit. How can you help create clarity?
Above all, be kind. And be yourself. People will respect you for this. This is something which is always within your control.
Share the load
Get comfortable with the fact that, as a leader, you don’t have to do it all. In fact, you can’t! As above, start playing to strengths – both yours and those of your team – and ask people to share ideas about what could work in these circumstances. Coaching is not about giving answers; it is about creating cultures where people learn and develop.
Consider how you can help your team to become more autonomous (whist maintaining their connection amongst each other), and to be responsible for their own output. Any expectations around how this output is achieved may have to shift, however (more on this in our next insight piece ‘Managing Performance’). The team needs to know that you are there and how you plan to communicate with each other. Leaders who coach are looking to create an environment which allows people to think for themselves and not rely on them for all the answers. This is when people come into their own and performance shifts up a gear.
The shift in decision-making
The speed of decision-making needs to be different in these circumstances, and it won’t always be possible (or, indeed, wise) to involve everyone in these decisions – that will only slow things down. It may be, as a leader, that you need to accept that you will not be involved in every single decision that’s made over the coming days, weeks and months. Trust those people who are working on their projects – there is no room for ego in this situation.
Be clear on roles and responsibilities – and then allow (and trust) people to get on with it. Don’t let the ‘perfect’ get in the way of the good. The rate at which we are having to make decisions is changing. This may mean that we are not able to access as much information or have as much clarity as we would usually like before making a call. It’ll require us to be more agile and take risks without perhaps having the level of comfort in data and information that we are used to. Sometimes, given the context, good is good enough. Accept this.
This crisis needs leaders who can coach
Good coaches are curious. They ask challenging questions that frame situations in different ways. They create learning, rather than teaching environments, where people are given the tools and the autonomy to think for themselves. They are empathetic, helping people build resilience by learning from their setbacks. They are singularly focused on the people with whom they are working, listening intently to hear the individual that is speaking to them. They are concerned about how people feel as well as what they think.
If leaders approach the current crisis with the attitude of a coach, their organisations will have a fighting chance.
Download our coaching factsheet here
For tips and hints and a bank of questions to help get you started, download our Helping leaders become coaches factsheet, here
Communication and engagement are key. Don’t make assumptions about what your people need – ask them. Use this template to check in with them regularly