The pandemic brought unforeseen disruption at breathtaking speed, taking a toll on the physical and emotional well-being of employees. The stakes are even higher for leaders reexamining strategic direction and vision while managing ambiguity. With employees concerned about an evolving workplace, it is imperative that leaders be better equipped to address real anxieties. Professional coaching provides a long-term solution to lessening increasing pressures and growing uncertainty.

Business leaders need the agility to create vision and to support a company’s greatest asset: its people.

Five workforce priorities are emerging for business leaders, according to PwC. All five have a people component:
• Protect people
• Communicate effectively
• Maintain continuity of work
• Assess workforce costs
• Prepare for recovery

In a traditional workplace, priorities like protecting people and communicating effectively were part of everyday leadership. When the workplace culture moved into the home, remote working altered the status quo. A leader’s approach to intention, trust, and inclusiveness in relationships changed. Making intentional choices about work and team became difficult for anyone simultaneously homeschooling children and running a business. Without a water cooler, physical isolation inhibited building trust. Ensuring all team members had a voice and felt like part of a team was difficult without finely tuned soft skills of empathy and vulnerability.

A Strong Coaching Culture

Today’s tumultuous times magnify opportunities to be proactive, discover alternate possibilities, and create an innovative ethos that looks for new solutions that resist the status quo. Shawna, one company leader who shared her story on #experiencecoaching, found that coaching transformed the way she led. Not having a vision for how people worked together had increased her leadership challenges, but through coaching, she learned new skills to create a vision and to reinvent her team’s structure. Organizations integrating coaching into organizational effectiveness see improvements in retention, teamwork, relationships, and job satisfaction.

Companies that purposefully move away from “command and control” leadership in favor of a coaching culture are likely better prepared to quickly adapt, manage workforce priorities and support employees’ physical and emotional well-being. Leaders like Shawna who have received coaching or are trained in coaching skills have a greater ability to communicate effectively and to lead with empathy.

A strong coaching culture is correlated with high-performing organizations, including success at large-scale strategic change. A successful coaching culture has six elements, according to Building a Coaching Culture for Change Management, a 2018 study conducted by the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and the Human Capital Institute:

  • Employees value coaching.
  • Senior executives value coaching.
  • Managers/leaders develop coaching skills through accredited coach-specific training.
  • Coaching has a dedicated line item in the budget.
  • Employees have equal access to coaching.
  • Three coaching modalities are present: internal coaches, external coaches, and managers/leaders using coaching skills.

Shawna embraced a “coach approach” to leadership. This approach, using evidence-based ICF competencies specific to the coaching profession, is proven to help organizations better respond to the unknown. Paramount to these competencies is adherence to a code of ethics and confidentiality, the criticality of partnership between coach and client, and the importance of cultural, systemic, and contextual awareness. Partnering with an ICF-credentialed coach helped Shawna co-create possibilities and solutions that she may not have come up with on her own.

ICF defines coaching as “partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential.” In a pandemic-aware world in which potential has become blurred for many, professional coaching offers a future-looking, transformational, and sustainable way to redesign potential. Coaching raises self-awareness and creates change through intentional choices. It is in those moments of choice when the coach/client partnership holds great value to build a plan that moves toward outcomes.

The Fear of Vulnerability

“All [coaching] clients, whoever they are and however grand, successful and important, fear two things: vulnerability and loss of control,” Jenny Rogers writes in Coaching Skills—A Handbook. What could bring about these fears more than a pandemic? Professional coaches are trained to examine these and other uncertainties to inspire understanding and growth.

Unlike training, which has a set curriculum and agenda, coaching focuses on the client’s agenda. During each session, the coach uses skillful questioning to help the client set its own goals, identify choices, and close gaps while moving toward a client-envisioned future. Engagements are ongoing, with frequent reinforcement and realignment through new learning and outcomes. In coaching, a client (or team) sets their own objectives, with a coach providing guidance. Ultimately, coaching is about change.

Leading Change Through Coaching

In times of change, it’s necessary to have a clear change-management plan with people at its center. Coaching is one of the most effective ways to develop change-management capabilities. Individuals, teams, and organizations can explore resistance, increase engagement, and promote resilience in the face of change. Clients self-assess and course correct in real time rather than relying on predetermined milestones or measurements.

Shawna saw the need for change in her organization. Through her partnership with an ICF-credentialed coach, she learned new skills and resources, which she used with her new leadership team. That leadership team then brought newly acquired skills to their subgroups. The result was a trickle-down “coach approach” throughout the organization, helping Shawna move her leadership team forward while creating space for her to stay engaged and committed as a leader.

Workplace challenges are real and filled with uncertainty and ambiguity. Normalization is an ongoing struggle. Employees need support, communication, and consistency. How companies respond to this change is an intentional choice. The art and practice of coaching can build a pathway to change and create the possibility of emerging stronger and more resilient from Covid-19 and any situation. As Shawna discovered, professional coaching is an investment in leaders that can produce a win-win scenario through its positive ripple effect that leads to overall individual and organizational effectiveness.

To learn more about professional coaching and its organizational benefits, visit International Coaching Federation.


The International Coaching Federation is the world’s largest organization leading the global advancement of the coaching profession and fostering coaching’s role as an integral part of a thriving society. Founded in 1995, its 35,000-plus members located in more than 140 countries and territories work toward common goals of enhancing awareness of coaching and upholding the integrity of the profession through lifelong learning and upholding the highest ethical standards. Through the work of its six unique family organizations, ICF empowers professional coaches, coaching clients, organizations, communities, and the world through coaching. Visit coachingfederation.org for more information.

Ann Rindone, vice president, ICF Professional Coaches, ACC
Ann leads global development through membership growth strategies, collaborative stakeholder relationships, and promoting ICF excellence to external audiences. Ann has a deep passion for coaching and its positive impact on relationships and society. Ann keeps her stuff in Omaha, Nebraska, USA, and finds her home anywhere she is in the world.

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