At Kotter, we help people accelerate needed, often complex and difficult, strategic changes in their organizations. We have a large box of tools at our disposal, one of which, as you might guess, is coaching—the process of helping people to maximize their potential. In the past six months, we have noticed that coaching in this age of COVID brings new and important challenges—and opportunities.
Let us explain.
Employment Status Polarization
On one hand, we are experiencing astronomical job losses. On the other hand, many people are working around the clock to prove their value to companies staring down a recession. Both extremes are disorienting. Loss of work – a key component of our identities – challenges those impacted to redefine who they are. Those who are over-employed struggle to avoid their careers dominating their lives entirely. Employment polarization is pressing many of us to search for answers to profound questions. What’s important to me? What are my essential needs? How am I honoring them? Having a coach to help explore these heavy-hitting topics can be invaluable. People who are in tune with what makes them tick make sounder decisions, build stronger relationships, and communicate more effectively – all of which are critical change leadership capabilities.
Work-Life Boundary Disintegration
We are simultaneously living through a global pandemic coupled with never-before-seen honesty around systemic racism. Millions of people are virtually welcoming their colleagues into their homes on a daily basis. Coworkers are having hard conversations about race that were taboo for decades. There is a collective lowering of our guards and a newfound desire to connect with our professional contacts on a more human level. Together, we are reimagining what it means to bring our whole selves to work. Coaches have long acknowledged the importance of coaching whole people. It is impossible to help someone become a better leader without also inviting them to become a better person. Seeing yourself and those around you more clearly, learning how to relate to people with different viewpoints, manifesting your dreams – these are skills that serve leaders in and out of the office.
Power of Purpose Revolution
Read Larry Fink’s profit and purpose letter to shareholders or the Business Roundtable’s statement on the purpose of corporations and you will realize that the days of shareholder primacy are fading. The winning organizations of the next decades will benefit diverse stakeholders – employees, customers, suppliers, community members etc. – while regenerating our environment. To do so, leaders and leadership teams must answer two questions: What do I stand for? What value will we create together? Exploring purpose in a meaningful way is challenging because of what psychologist Douglas Labier calls the “stranglehold of self-interest.” Coaching helps people to understand their egos and true selves more clearly so that they can articulate and share their authentic value and gifts. Leaders who model this behavior inspire others to do the same. So more and more people become fulfilled and productive, creating movements that have the potential to achieve incredible results.
We think that a sensitivity to these three issues gives us one reason to be optimistic that, with assistance from coaching and other more systemic solutions, we can create a new generation of leaders who are adept at leading through change. The tidal wave of external forces described above are pushing us to rethink everything. At one point, many viewed coaching as a remedial tool to fix broken leaders. Today, we see it as part of an opportunity-engine – a proven way to identify and leverage our strengths as a force for good. As the number of transformation-thinking leaders benefiting from coaching swells, business and society will reap rewards too. More and more change capable leaders means a better tomorrow for all of us.