When I launched my coaching practice in April 2020, cancellations, postponements and reductions in learning and development budgets suggested that the start of a global pandemic was probably not the best time to fly solo! But after a slow few months and many helpful conversations with potential clients, contacts and peers in the legal sector, it became clear that as we all faced longer-term changes to our personal and professional lives, coaching, more than ever before, could offer vital and timely support to adapt to the ‘new normal’.
Coaching provided opportunities to pause and reflect on a number of important and consistent themes prompted by Covid: working and managing remotely, the need for ‘human’ leadership and the inevitable impact on work-life balance, resilience and wellbeing. Whilst these topics were often regular features of my earlier work as an internal coach in law firms, now was the time to really open up these conversations, unpack the present issues and challenges and help clients choose a positive way forward.
My recent coaching has provided support and guidance in three key contexts:
High-impact or ‘spot’ coaching sessions
When working at my last law firm, we recognised the benefits of providing short, often ‘one-off’, opportunities for a coaching conversation for both lawyers and professional support staff – to work with me ‘on-the-spot’ to focus on a specific skill, current challenge or goal and devise an action plan for future development. I received requests to offer similar online sessions in response to Covid, either as a single 60-minute session or a ‘block’ of 90 minutes to be taken in shorter slots as needed.
For example, coaching clients faced challenges with engaging their teams remotely, often felt isolated and demotivated on a personal level or were struggling to combine working from home with home-schooling. They were given time to step back and re-focus in order to make the immediate weeks and months as effective as possible. I could listen, support and challenge in a totally objective and confidential setting.
This format is continuing as we navigate the transition to hybrid working and a future that will remain uncertain and subject to change for some months to come.
Building your ‘inner-coach’
Historically, coaching was often reserved for senior leaders or those on the ‘path to partnership’. Whilst ‘spot’ coaching is one way to offer opportunities to a wider audience (and levels of experience), I’ve always been a firm believer in helping people to develop their own ‘self-coaching’ skills, to enhance (or fill a void of) support from managers, colleagues, family or friends.
I’ve facilitated a number of online group sessions to encourage a ‘Be your own coach’ mindset and have seen a particular interest from firms wanting to support their trainees and junior lawyers. Sessions have been interactive and offered tools and techniques to support both personal and professional development and broader wellbeing. For example, we’ve discussed:
- Raising self-awareness of unique strengths and values.
- Understanding that you can control your thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
- Paying attention to your internal dialogue and limiting beliefs.
- Developing a ‘Growth Mindset’ and openness to feedback.
- Setting, sticking to and achieving your goals.
I strongly believe that as we enter the next phase of dealing with Covid, we can all help ourselves by applying the core coaching skills of active listening, questioning and goal-setting to our own thinking, emotions and actions. It really is possible to turn your negative ‘inner-critic’ into a more positive and optimistic ‘inner-coach’!
Developing ‘Manager as Coach’ skills
Many of my conversations with senior lawyers and leaders have focused on the changing face of leadership and management during the pandemic. One silver-lining of the past 18 months is the recognition of the need for more ‘human’ styles of leadership where leaders and managers have used coaching skills to connect, communicate and care for their teams. Many firms had been encouraging a coaching management style for some time but our recent shared experiences and challenges confirm that it offers a welcome alternative to the traditional ‘command and control’ approach.
I’ve seen how leaders – often very senior with entrenched habits – have challenged their leadership style and been curious to build coaching skills to both support and stretch their teams. In addition to the core skills mentioned above, we’ve explored how to develop trust, rapport and empathy, build psychological safety to experiment with new approaches to remote work and empower team members to be engaged and take responsibility for their decisions, actions and goals.
While still work-in-progress for many clients, they are starting to see the benefits of a leadership model which is more evenly distributed and collaborative, where responsibility to continue to respond and adapt to change is shared amongst a team and where wellbeing (both individual and the leader’s) is given the priority it deserves.
Much remains uncertain about our way out of this pandemic and the return to offices and hybrid ways of working create ongoing concerns and anxieties. However, I’m confident that coaching, whether offered by a professional coach, manager or yourself, can continue to provide the space, support and solutions required over the months ahead.
How will you use coaching to sustain your own and your team’s success?