Learn & Evolve LLC. by Professor Arezou Harraf

COVID 19 demands more coaching and mentoring skills on leaders?

COVID-19When thinking about the current challenges around us, we can’t help but recall a particular leadership book that resonates to this day! Ronald A Heifetz and Marty Linsky in “Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading” highlight the risks of lack of adaptability in the art and science of leadership!

Current events such as the COVID 19 pandemic have more than ever confirmed the importance of leaders’ adaptability in the process of navigating challenges while keeping the workforce engaged and motivated.

In a virtual/hybrid workplace, many leaders have found coaching skills essential in keeping the team and workforce cohesion. This is further emphasized in an article by Harvard Business Review titled “The leaders as Coach,” where the authors contend that command and control leadership is no longer viable.

As a result, many companies are moving towards a coaching model. Leaders facilitate problem-solving and encourage employees’ development by asking questions and offering support and guidance rather than giving orders and making judgments.

Why is coaching critical, especially now?

Due to the lack of human connections in the workplace, employees’ motivation and engagement are highly impacted. When we’re all in the same office, we can observe body language and ask our team how they feel and help them. However, it is pretty challenging to read between the line to support and guide the virtual world. In addition, we can’t casually meet during lunch or by the water cooler anymore. We also can’t just step out of your office and walk down the Hall checking on our team. All this affects team connection and minimizes psychological safety. The challenge is real!

How can leaders’ practice being coaches in a virtual space?

  • Be intentional with human connections, plan discussions and activities to bring people together, and keep the team spirit. An example would be allowing time for icebreakers and casual conversation.
  • Use specific questions, ask questions that probe more profound answers than “yes or no” answers. “Generic questions such as “how are you doing” or “how are you today” “what’s new are useful when we could read the body language or when we had a few extra minutes to have a side chat to learn more. For coaching in the virtual workplace, questions have to be specific and focused, such as “what’s working well,” “what is your number one challenge,” or “what areas do you need help or support with?”
  • Stay present and listen intently; It is often challenging to listen intently for a long period of time. However, tackling one topic at a time for 30 minutes could help. Focused attention on coaching is more important than the time spent. What matters most is listening so the other person feels heard. Eliminate distractions and cultivate a sense of presence at the moment.
  • Manage your emotions: Avoid treating coaching as you would performance review, where attendees are often under stress. The aim of coaching is to connect with people deeply, and this type of approach would render it ineffective.
  • Observe yourself, talk less and avoid giving advice or defending the situation. Try to remain silent and hold the space for your team to talk and reflect. Moments of growth usually comes. Focus on moving people forward; the discussion would be concluded with at least one action step to start exploring.

Finally, the good news is that managers can improve their coaching skills in a short amount of time (15 hours),” according to HBR, “but they do have to invest in learning how to coach in the first place.” Their (HBR) research shows that after just a few hours of training, managers’ coaching skills improved by an average of 40%.

Please leave your details to join our free session on coaching skills for leaders on the 25th of June.

Arezou Harraf