By Mary Herrmann, Managing Director, Global Executive Coaching 

Business leaders today are leading through an unprecedented crisis with the impact of COVID-19 on people and organizations. Previous economic recessions, depressions, and pandemics were vastly different from the current state of things; but even though the environment is new, the fundamentals of effective leadership are not.  

Generations of leaders before us outlined the core tenets of leadership that still hold true today. These leadership fundamentals, such as sharing a strategic vision, motivating team members, communicating effectively, and being trustworthy, are often learned throughout the course of our careers, creating a repertoire of skills and abilities developed from first-hand experience.  

Unfortunately, many of these critical leadership skills are being demanded of first-time and mid-level managers who haven’t had the opportunities to develop them. Your people leaders are currently learning some of the most difficult leadership lessons in-real time and on their own (both literally and figuratively, thanks to isolation measures). But here’s the reality: they don’t have to and nor should they.  

Numerous studies have proven that one-on-one coaching accelerates leadership development and builds resilience, two critical elements in preventing performance dips and maintaining momentum, even in an unprecedented pandemic. Even before the virus, recent talent development trends indicate that companies are beginning to see the benefits of leader coaching at all levels, not just at the executive levels. And now, at a time when talent leaders are learning to lead through change under highly unusual circumstances, that trend is likely to become the rule rather than the exception.  

Now that virtual communications has become the new norm, how can virtual one-on-one coaching help eliminate the leadership learning curve for your mid-level and frontline leaders during COVID-19? Here are just a few of the tangible and intangible benefits: 

Accelerate real-time learning and performance 

The value of coaching is traditionally seen in the sharing of wisdom and knowledge that accelerates learning. While this is true, the most effective coaches also help leaders to establish their own frameworks for continuous learning and improvement. These performanceaccelerating frameworks help leaders to examine decision outcomes, conduct root-cause analyses, and identify lessons learned that can be incorporated into future initiatives. This approach equips leaders with immediate and ongoing learning and performance support. 

Effectively communicate and influence 

Effective communication is especially important when face-to-face interaction isn’t possible. Coaches work with leaders to convey key messages like vision, leader’s intent, and expectations in a clear, concise manner that motivates and garners buy-in among employees. 

Maintain clarity and sense of purpose 

In times of crisis, maintaining clarity and a sense of purpose is especially difficult. If a leader loses sight of the mission, so will his direct reports, which can lead to low morale, lack of productivity, and performance gaps. Considering the breadth of impact, helping leaders maintain clarity and sense of purpose may be the single biggest benefit of coaching. 

Increase situational awareness 

One of the most common natural reactions to high-stress environments is hyper-focused, tactical activity. This often results in channelized attention or tunnel vision that exposes teams to unforeseen threats that, under “normal” circumstances, could be anticipated and mitigated ahead of time.  

Coaches help leaders to maintain a high-level perspective during times of change, enabling them to see and communicate the big picture to their teams. This heightened situational awareness directly enables better decision-making in complex, rapidly changing environments, which leads me to the next point. 

Guide difficult decision-making 

Complex scenarios with significant consequences can make even the most decisive leader hesitate. Coaches share knowledge, experience, and understanding that, combined with the heightened situational awareness, help to improve and accelerate decision-making capabilities. In this process, coaches also help leaders to understand key decision-making criteria, mitigating factors, and the internal and external variables that must be accounted for, ultimately helping leaders to establish their own personal decision-making frameworks. 

Develop a leader’s mindset 

Promotions are often based on functional or technical abilities rather than leadership abilities, requiring new leaders to shift their mindset from individual contributor to people leader. For first-time managers, making this shift while learning to lead during a global pandemic is likely the biggest stressor of their careers. one-on-one coach can help to ease the transition, providing key insights and guiding thought patterns from tactical, individual contribution to strategic, team empowerment.  

Navigate emotions and conflicts 

Emotional intelligence is a crucial skillset in any professional setting; as leader, its consequential to success. Whether managing personal emotions or those of team membersa leader’s ability to manage an emotional situation can have broad consequences. A coach can help your leaders understand the importance of engaging in healthy conflict as a source for positive change and creative problem solving, and equip them with the tools and techniques to navigate those conversations for positive outcomes. 

The pandemic has created unique challenges for leadership development in 2020 but it has also presented us with unique opportunities. The truth is, your leaders will continue to learn throughout this period, but they can either learn slowly through experience or learn more quickly through coaching.   

Absorbing the knowledge, skills, and abilities of experienced coaches can accelerate leadership development in high-stress environments at a time when it’s needed most. And, with the available technology and today’s virtual connections, one-on-one coaching has never been more accessible—or more essential—to your people leaders than now.