This year has been challenging, heartbreaking, even gut-wrenching. We are grateful for all those deemed to be essential workers—from doctors and nurses to grocery store clerks and sanitation workers. They stepped up and performed their jobs diligently, even knowing they were putting themselves and their families at risk. Signs appeared on streets around the country thanking them for their courage and noble persistence in their work as the pandemic unfolded.
As we deal with the economic and organizational chaos prompted by COVID-19, I believe there is another important group that should be considered essential: leaders and managers. I have witnessed how these organizational heroes—from CEOs to first-line managers—have stepped up to solve unprecedented challenges to keep their businesses solvent while consistently showing compassion for the employees that make up their workforces.
Let’s review the challenges that leaders and managers have faced over the last several months. Overnight, they were required to close their doors while crafting and executing plans to ensure both worker and customer safety. As many watched their revenues plummet, they formulated plans to meet customer needs through work being performed from employees’ couches and kitchen tables. And as employees needed direction, reassurance, and support to reinvent the way they work, leaders and managers stepped up. New, urgently critical projects, from IT to facilities management, were launched and completed in record time.
Leaders and managers have provided a valuable service in the way they have connected with and reassured workers who were stuck at home in shock. While most leaders are working from their homes and not in harm’s way of the virus, they are working more than ever before in a high-stakes situation. Work and home lives have blended, and back-to-back Zoom or Teams calls, from 6:00 a.m. to midnight daily, are not unusual.
Leaders and managers are people too. They need support to do their essential job each and every day. Being present for others and putting one’s own fears aside are not easy. As leaders and managers continue to support their workers, someone needs to help them recharge, refocus, and acquire the skills to lead in ways they did not learn in business school.
As an exclusive leadership development firm that provides coaching to executives, we work with thousands of leaders across the country. We can say firsthand that this pandemic has tested leaders and managers beyond their job description.
Leadership Support in Crisis Management
What support do leaders and managers need to continue to work at peak performance? We propose that leadership coaching is a tool that helps leaders lead in a crisis, and this spring we set out to learn how, specifically, it helps them.
In June of this year, we surveyed over 100 leaders who had begun leadership coaching in 2018 or 2019. We found that the leaders in our study overwhelmingly credited leadership coaching with improving their ability to lead during the coronavirus pandemic. Specifically, 93% reported that leadership coaching equipped them to utilize new behaviors required of them during the pandemic.
Leadership coaching is a targeted leadership development process designed to meet the unique needs of the individual leader. A leadership coach is a “thinking partner” whose specific purpose is to support the development of an individual’s personal and professional potential.
Notably, the leaders in our survey had not received coaching to respond to a pandemic. They started leadership coaching to hone their craft and be ready to lead in the future, whatever the future might bring.
Leaders need to be agile and continuous learners, ready for anything. It is good news that 83% also reported their leadership coaching provided insights that helped them better navigate uncertainty. Why? Because coaching creates sustainable change by using a cognitive behavioral learning approach (shown below). This proven method helps a coachee explore situations with a new perspective, understand themselves in a new a new way, create new mindsets for approaching situations, and build new and more productive habits.
Coaching participants were also asked to select from a list of benefits they received during coaching and used during the COVID-19 crisis. The results are ranked below. Most CEOs would be happy with reported improvements in any one of these areas. Our respondents reported improvements in multiple categories, with the ability to focus on the most important work ranking the highest, as reported by 83% of respondents.
The most frequently observed coaching benefits give us insight into the activities leaders and managers rely on most to perform through the pandemic. The top two are the ability to focus on the most important work and the strengthening of interpersonal skills. To read the complete study, click here.
Strengthen the Leadership Link
A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Each organizational layer needs to support the next with precision to ensure there are no kinks. Workers need to rely on their leaders for direction, support, guidance, and reassurance. We should all be able to trust our leaders and rely on them not only for administrative support but also for emotional and inspirational support. When this happens, the entire organization will deliver high-quality, productive work and weather this pandemic.
For leaders to consistently show up, remain other-focused, and maintain a clear mind to solve the complex problems brought by each new day, they need support themselves.
Provide your leaders and managers with the coaching, training, mentoring, and other leadership development they need to show up each day to support their team and the organization. Consider your leaders as essential workers, critically important to shepherd their teams through this pandemic and beyond, and to position their organizations to reinvent themselves and thrive in what will be a new way of working.
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