Coaching through the crisis — what helps?

May 4-10 is International Coaching Week.  We’ll be sharing a variety of tools and techniques with you throughout the week.

I’ve spent the past months giving away free hours of virtual coaching to clients past and present – and to their contacts, clients and colleagues in need of help.  It’s been a humbling, and heart-warming experience.  Humans are extraordinary for their capacity to connect, reflect and, quite simply, keep going through the toughest times.

Three words came to me as I thought about these past weeks of coaching: Intimacy, Introspection and Inspiration.  Many of you are building your own coaching skills as a colleague, manager, leader or parent. I encourage to keep those three words at the very heart of your practice.


Across huge distances: from Hong Kong (where I live) to Sydney, San Francisco, Switzerland and Shanghai, one consistent message has emerged from my coaching calls: “Thank goodness for technology.”  It has turned out to be the lifeline that’s kept loneliness, isolation and inactivity at bay.

Many who confessed to a prior visceral discomfort with the world of virtual work, now find themselves confidently running online breakout rooms, sharing whiteboards over video platforms, and having professional and productive discussions despite the interventions of fame-seeking pets or children!

One CEO I work with, though, confessed to a profound struggle. Having ensured all his staff had the technology needed to work from home, he was struggling to muster his ‘mojo’.  It had become clear that he takes huge energy from the intimacy he accesses through direct human contact in the offices he works in and visits.  That’s one example of how these past weeks have been hard on extrovert who charge their battery through human interaction and external stimulation.  

That client set himself the challenge to create online drop-ins to replicate the “quick chat” and the “coffee machine encounter” that he so enjoys; the sort of interpersonal moments with staff that, for him, feel casual and unforced.  He’s also looking at inviting a group of fellow CEOs to ‘share a sandwich’ online as a way to combine the personal, intimate setting of working from home with the concept of a ‘client lunch’.

Coach’s Top Tips: 

The ability to establish intimacy in the virtual world is valuable.  Think about what feels genuine to you. Find a style for your 1:1s and team/client meetings that allows you to feel both professional AND personal. And, while respecting time and task on virtual calls, choose to ask some courageous and humane questions to connect heart-to-heart as well as head-to-head (eg: “What’s the toughest feeling you’ve wrestled with this week?”).

To support establishing intimacy online, it helps to take care with how you set up your home office/‘webcasting’ space. Think about lighting, clothing, sound quality, eye contact – the article below offers excellent guidance.

One excellent resource:

Topic: How to Look and Sound Fabulous on a Webcam (by: Dr. Gary Gould) (sources: School of Journalism, Ryerson University) [Click here to read more]


Many introverts have thrived in the work-from-home/virtual world. Introverts can better manage their energy when they Interact with fewer people, can switch off video cameras, mute participants, share screen time more equitably, and type responses while others are talking.  These things can help to bring out the best in those who energise and express best when they have time and space inside their own heads. 

It has been heartening in several team coaching calls to hear real appreciation for the clarity of thought and the “deliberate calm” (see McKinsey article below) shown by introvert leaders and team members. The struggling extroverts might benefit from a 1:1 conversation with an introvert colleague, to soak in some of that clarity and calm. 

What has been toughest for me has been working with the deep introspection of those who have lost, or who face losing, their jobs. The effects of Covid-19 on the staff in many businesses have been both sudden and severe. More negative impacts are probably still to come.  When connecting over Zoom or telephone with those folks who are fearing or facing the worst, you need to be present. Attention – real focused attention from your brain, your gut and your heart – is the greatest gift you can give.

Coach’s top tips: 

In the face of fear, guilt, anger, resentment or shame – the difficult and deep emotions that often accompany a loss of livelihood, your most important role is to listen deeply. Acknowledge the depth of the feelings, don’t diminish them. Hold space for an outpouring of words, or provide quiet companionship for silent mourning.  

Don’t rush people into planning. Please always seek permission before you ask grieving people to generate ideas and solutions (or share your own); if the person is not emotionally ready to hear you, you may unwittingly be more hurtful than helpful. (eg “I understand you’re in pain from losing your job, and you’re also deeply anxious about the future. I do have a few thoughts and suggestions to share when the time is right. When might be the best time for us to have that conversation?)

One excellent resource:

Topic: Leadership in a crisis: Responding to the coronavirus outbreak and future challenges (by: Gemma D’Auria and Aaron De Smet) (Sources: McKinsey & Company) [Click here to read more]


I’ve been delighted by the number of ways I’ve seen people connect through PLAY on virtual platforms: Quizzes, wordclouds, card games, recreating famous artworks with items you have at home, a tour of the world on a stationary exercise bike, birthday parties, fundraisers, fancy dress dads putting the bins out… The list is huge.  Becoming a technology refugee has released great waves of human ingenuity and creativity. Even my 80-year old mother finally uses WhatsApp!

Individuals and teams have been inspired to co-operate and collaborate with an extraordinary degree of positive care and intention.  Scheduling, bandwidth and cameras have focused our minds (apart from the odd individual who forgets they are on screen and takes their laptop to the bathroom or reveals that they’re working in a shirt and Y-fronts). This heightened consciousness and effort has been inspiring.

Enforced change has stretched many teams and businesses to breaking point, but it has also rallied people to a common cause, made them connect to cheer each other up, and released a stream of ideas.  A number of my clients – from SAAS providers to bricks and mortar retailers are wrestling with the question, “What is better in this ‘webcam world’ and how do we keep it?”.  

It may be mostly doom and gloom, but there are bright spots. One CEO of an Australian engineering business, is experiencing a windfall from government investment in infrastructure projects.  Yet another client running huge data centres has just had their best quarter ever. But most of my coaching conversations have been with leaders trying to pivot towards a future they are still struggling to define. 

At the forefront of all their minds is the danger that we simply ‘spring back’ to the old ways, and lose the sense of rallying in support of one another. They fear missing this rare opportunity to make possible more of what was previously impossible.  They want to keep the spirit of care and experimentation; the idea that we can ‘have a go’ at new ways. Others are anxious that the world we knew will never return, that their markets will shrink permanently and their ways of working prove obsolete.

Fear is a powerful motivator for change. But the most inspirational leaders always unite fear with hope. Hope is not wishful thinking. It lies in noticing and appreciating the small things that went well today. It lies is smiling and finding transcendent humour in moments of stress. Hope can be found in human relationships even in exceptionally difficult and confusing times. It lies in the spark of an idea, the power of a clear decision, the choice of an optimistic attitude. When speaking to those you lead, take responsibility for highlighting hope.

Coach’s top tips:

When leading others through a strategic landscape of fear, remember to use the language of hope. Be honest, be practical, but dial up the vocabulary (and body language) of appreciation, gratitude, connection and imagination.

One excellent resource:

Topic: Hope Is a Strategy (Well, Sort Of) (by: Deborah Mills-Scofield) (sources: Harvard Business Review) [Click here to read more]


Please do share stories of intimacy, introspection and inspiration – these are remarkable times. And keep coaching through this crisis.

Dramatic Difference coaches work with business leaders and teams as:

  • a thought partner to help find clarity in complexity
  • a support partner so you can safely vent your anxieties and create choices
  • a challenge partner to help you find fresh ideas and courage to seize opportunities…

From Coach-on-Call packages to free sessions for those in dire need, please reach out and we’ll see how we can help. 

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