The Impact of Executive Coaching
Leading in Uncertain Times
A study reporting the impact of leadership coaching on executive performance during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Where the Rubber Meets the Road
Elite athletes train with coaches for thousands of hours in preparation for that one key moment. The stakes are high. The world is watching. This single performance will mean the difference between victory and defeat. In the world of business, 2020 is such a time for leaders of people and organizations. The stakes are high, and their performance matters.
As an exclusive leadership coaching firm that has helped hundreds of executive leaders reach peak performance, Dion Leadership was curious about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on leadership performance. How were the leaders we coached responding during this stressful, unprecedented time? Did their previous coaching engagement help them manage the chaos? With those questions in mind, we surveyed over 100 recently coached executives in June 2020. We asked them to consider the impact their leadership coaching was having on their performance and their ability to lead their organization through the effects of the pandemic.
- Began coaching engagements after January 2018
- 35% response rate
- Typically hold the title of Manager, Director, Vice President, or C-level executive
From multiple industries (several from large manufacturing and healthcare organizations) and hold a variety of jobs
Each participant in the study received between 6 and 25 individual coaching sessions that spanned in length from 3 to 12 months, or they received coaching as part of a comprehensive leadership development cohort program (typically a year in length).
What Is Leadership Coaching?
Leadership coaching is a targeted leadership development process designed to meet the unique needs of the individual leader. A leadership coach is a “thinking partner” whose specific purpose is to support the development of an individual’s personal and professional potential.
To create sustainable change, we follow a cognitive behavioral learning approachto coaching. This proven method helps a coachee explore situations with a new perspective, understand themselves in a new a new way, create new mindsets for approaching situations, and build new and more productive habits.
Our leadership coaches are typically previous executive-level leaders themselves. They have honed their leadership skills by leading others for decades before receiving a coaching certification. We select coaches who have strong emotional intelligence skills as a complement to their business and leadership aptitude and experience.
Our coaches use a proven coaching process. A key element that makes our coaching engagements so successful is our coach match process. We encourage all coachees to conduct “chemistry calls” before selecting the coach they find most credible.
Did You Think About It?
We first measured if the coachee thought about their coaching during the pandemic. We know that as this pandemic hit, most leaders were overloaded as they processed large amounts of information and emotions. Many were asked to respond quickly in crisis mode. The fact that almost all of the leaders in our study thought about what they learned throughout the coaching either “all the time,” “regularly,” or “periodically” during this time is impressive.
… reported that they thought about their Leadership Coaching during the coronavirus pandemic.
Why? Because It Mattered.
Leaders could have turned to many different experiences in their life to support them as they responded to COVID-19. The reason leaders relied on their coaching during this time is because, as they also reported, their coaching provided them with insights that helped them better navigate the uncertainty that was unfolding in front of them.
All the leaders in this study engaged in coaching prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. This is important to note and signals that leadership coaching, in general, helps leaders prepare for and become more resilient and competent in responding to change.
Many successful, experienced executives report they have engaged the expertise of a leadership coach. Coaching provides an opportunity for the executive to pause, process their biases and past habits, and create strategies and approaches to lead in the manner required for organizational success.
… reported that their Leadership Coaching provided insights that helped them better navigate uncertainty.
It’s Not Just What Leaders Say, It’s What Leaders Do
This pandemic required a great deal of us as leaders. There was no script, no previous experience to draw upon. As neuroscience has taught us, what you think about drives how you behave, which, in turn, drives business results. The leaders in our study overwhelmingly credited leadership coaching with equipping them to utilize new behaviors required of them during the coronavirus pandemic. In fact, 66% said their leadership coaching “most definitely” equipped them with new behaviors that were suddenly required of them.
… reported that because of their leadership coaching, they were most definitely or somewhat better equipped to utilize new behaviors.
What Exactly Improved?
Coaching participants were asked to select from a list of benefits they received during coaching and used during COVID-19. The results are ranked below. Most CEOs would be happy with reported improvements in any one of these areas. Our respondents reported improvements in multiple categories, with the ability to focus on the most important work being the highest, as reported by 83% of respondents.
What is it worth to an organization to have leaders perform at a higher level in these categories? While this is not a study in ROI, it makes sense that focusing on the right work, using stronger interpersonal skills, and having a long-term perspective will translate to better business decisions.
Especially now, with so many distractions, uncertainties, and challenges to overcome, these areas of leader improvement are of great benefit to organizations.
“Coaching is releasing a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.”
In Their Own Words
Perhaps the most useful insights from this study lie in the written responses to the simple question: “What is the most valuable benefit of leadership coaching that surfaced during the Coronavirus Pandemic?” The comments below were sourced directly from the survey responses and sorted by category.
- Coaching helped me be a better communicator and leader. COVID has been the most difficult time of many people’s lives. Uncertainly about their own health, the safety of their families, the security of their jobs has contributed to unprecedented stress levels for everyone. Understanding how to have an empathetic discussion about fear and concerns with staff in an open and supportive manner was the most valuable lesson I learned in coaching!
- Clear and effective messaging of key objectives was a critical part of managing the crisis. While the current coach and I did not work on this specifically, we did talk a lot about embracing sharing my vision. This idea of people needing to hear your message and vision is a valuable aspect of success.
- My DISC analysis and recognizing others’ DISC styles [helped me] communicate effectively during this weird time. It helped me pause more, think about responses more, and identify the communication needs of my colleagues.
- One of the main focuses of my coaching experiences was improving communication. With my whole department working from home during the pandemic, the strategies I learned played an important role in keeping the department informed and connected.
Managing Well-Being and Resilience
- I pull from my leadership coaching experience…. The one change I can attribute directly to my coaching experience is to make mindfulness and self-care part of my daily routine. Since working from home in early March, I have set a new daily routine of morning exercise. I realized self-care was something I knew I needed to make a permanent part of my daily activities but never could manage to establish a new habit. I’m proud to say I’m getting up in the morning at the same time I did when I went to the office, have a 45-minute workout, and am still at my computer by 7:30 am. When we do finally return to the office, I am committed to keeping this habit. I want to look back on this unbelievably strange time and say I emerged from COVID better than before.
- Managing my time during stress.
- The ability to relax through methods learned with my coach in times of stress and uncertainty. Having the ability to be calm allows for clear thinking and less stress.
Improved Focus and Mindset to Lead Virtually
- Thinking beyond myself, thinking about “how I show up” and how I can support my team to show up well.
- The ability to seek truth and transparency.
- A realistic approach to the new situation and then focusing on the most important thing that matters in every moment.
- Prioritizing and clearing “noise” to deal with the issues at hand and steer the company through a rapidly changing, challenging, and dynamic economic environment.
- Taking action; not hesitating. Reviewing the data and then taking action.
- Confidence in my abilities to make sound decisions.
- Learning to work remotely with my TEAM!
- Helped me do a better job surveying the landscape of my work environment. Entering crucial conversations with others on the team in order to make timely, mission critical decisions.
New Levels of Empathy
- Develop a different perspective on how to view and respond to challenging situations and people involved in them.
- Being able to put myself in other people’s shoes and see things from other perspectives was especially beneficial. Everyone’s situation was different (working from home, different childcare situations, etc.), and understanding that not everyone is going to react the same way to this new scenario helped me navigate how to handle our team during this time. I also used several time management tools to keep myself on track, especially when adjusting to working from home.
- To pay attention to the actions and emotions of my team around me and adjust my style to their needs.
- Developing relationships, earning trust, delegating, prioritizing, and leading with vision.
- The reminder that leaders need to be aware of how they “show up” in order to help people through these difficult times.
To Sum It Up…
Simply put, leadership coaching works. It has been particularly useful in supporting recently coached leaders as they navigate what may be the most difficult year in their career. Unfortunately, most organizations only invest in coaching during the good times, when the wind is at their back. Coaching has a long shelf life, supporting leaders for years to come. It creates new perspectives and muscle memory to lead when effective leadership is needed the most – especially during times of adversity.
This pandemic is far from over. Leaders are running a marathon – not a sprint. If you would you like support so you or your leaders can receive the benefits shown in this study, reach out to us. Our large team of experienced executive coaches can help.
Want to share these study results with your colleagues? Download the full study report below.
We’re Here to Help!
As always, we are available and want to support you with proactive organizational development consulting. Let us be your thought partner in finding creative ways to engage your leaders and employees in leading courageously during volatile and uncertain times, especially as your organization tries to find the most effective ways to navigate the challenges brought about by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Please reach out to me personally (firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-417-5895) if we can help you or your organization in any way, big or small.
Founder & CEO