Whether you know it or not, you and your team are smack in the middle of grieving. Covid-19 has put a violent full stop in all our lives and whether we return to “normal” or not, despite all the whizzy tools of working online, the ground beneath our feet has seismically shifted.
Momentous change pushes most people to operating in their comfort zones, reverting to their preferred ways of working. And in most organisations today praise and promotion comes with developing a ‘fixer tendency’. You get things done, you face down problems and you fix them. So in these moments of crisis you are probably, unconsciously, relying on this. Telling people what to do and how to do it. And yet, right now, that is not the most needed skill in your toolbox. What is needed is a non-fixing attitude and solid coaching skills – otherwise you will soon be doing everything and stressed beyond belief!
Furthermore, the unintended consequence of this fixing approach is a failure to empower, a failure to support and ultimately a failure to motivate. And, unless you have practiced your communication skills in an online world, it’s likely you will not spot the impact of what you are doing for some time.
Turning to a more positive behaviour we notice that working online today, people are genuinely asking “how are you?” and starting calls with a check-in. Asking how families are, asking how people feel, and simply taking time to listen in a caring and helpful way. We know of clients who have found that this takes so long they need another meeting to deal with the original meeting’s purpose! However, let’s be honest, how many of you have realised, through asking these questions and engaging differently, how little you knew about your colleagues and staff members? How disconnected were you to their home lives, their day-to-day lives outside work and their internal motivations?
Knowing what is important to your colleagues has a critical role in building trust and hence enabling greater team effectiveness. Only now is it becoming obvious to many that they previously gave these issues very little attention. They knew about the theory, but were too busy to implement it. Perhaps, this was because they did not want to share their own backgrounds. And yet realising that your own ways of working and your own preferences are different to others is key in leadership. Effective leaders recognise and take note of these differences by adjusting their own behaviours to meet the needs of others. And the skills of coaching have a key role to play here.
At the heart of coaching as a leadership skill is a belief system which says that the other person you are working with has all the capabilities to determine what will be the best step forward for them. On any issue. This does not mean that they know the answer in a pure solution sense, but it does mean that with your help they can work out what is best for them. Crucially this may be completely different to what would be best for you and hence your advice is not the best solution.
A leader empowered with the skills of coaching has learned to listen effectively to others and to motivate others through giving them the time to work out their own next steps. Like starting meetings by asking “How are you?”. This involves asking powerful questions that help colleagues identify and move past very personal barriers, such as managing the children in the background or supporting elderly relatives. This involves time and patience. Listening. Giving people space. Learning about their needs and motivations – not just telling them about yours! This is coaching.
And if you are one of those people who thinks, ‘well we’ve been working in online teams for years, so this is no different to normal’, we ask you to take a step back. Yes, it may be your version of normal, however have you ever asked yourself how you should manage this differently to when you are face-to-face with colleagues? Our guess is that you never have. For most people we just get on with it and do what we think is most appropriate without taking time out to reflect on how to do things differently. And then to practice doing them differently - as distinct to having had an interesting debate and then continuing as you were before.
So, whilst you are probably inundated currently with lists of ‘The Top X Tips to working online’, our advice is to invest some time into developing some basic coaching skills. They will be invaluable now and in any future world of work too.
- Download a free chapter from Coaching On the Go
- Listen to our Leadership On the Go podcasts with Cranfield alumni
- If you’re interested to join our debate please join our Coaching On the Go LinkedIn Group
About the Authors
Dr Phil Renshaw and Jenny Robinson are academics, entrepreneurs, teachers, and both have extensive private coaching businesses. Both deliver workshops for Cranfield Executive Development and Cranfield School of Management. Phil and Jenny met on the first day of their PhDs and immediately realised that they shared a depth of business experience from around the world that, combined with coaching, provided a unique perspective on leaders and their leadership. They are the authors of Coaching on the Go (Pearson, 2019), which offers a unique perspective on coaching skills for leaders and the power of coaching by focusing on everyday life situations. To learn more and to respond to their views please contact them (Phil.Renshaw@cranfield.ac.uk, Jennifer-Llewellen.Robinson@cranfield.ac.uk or at www.coachingonthego.co.uk)