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Coaching on resilience can help us through this crisis

We need resilience to thrive in the ‘new-normal’ way of work

No-one can deny that we are going through massive change currently. In the midst of the Covid-19 crisis in April 2020, many people are feeling anxious and scared. Now, more than ever, we need resilience if we are to thrive in the ‘new-normal’ way of work that is emerging. So says Jo Thomson, a strategic consultant and leadership coach. “It’s such a cliché to say that change is the norm,” Jo smiles, “but it is very true at the moment.”

Consider the tremendous changes that South Africa has gone through in the last couple of years – drought, electricity shortages, many state-owned enterprises collapsing – a lot of the things that we took for granted are not so certain anymore. “Added to that are global changes, like the Covid-19 pandemic, the increasing tensions between the East and the West, Brexit, to just name a few, that add to people’s sense of upheaval.” Jo says.

Focusing on what we can control

“Companies used to design 5-year strategies with annual reviews,” he muses. “but with these uncertainties our planning horizon has shortened dramatically, and many businesses now adopt a 1-year strategy with a 6-month review. And people are struggling to remain positive and make sense of it all.” Neuroscience tells us that when we feel threatened and anxious, our brains’ ability to think creatively, solve complex problems, and to prioritise our activities get severely reduced – and yet these are the very capabilities that we need the most when facing an uncertain future. “We go into survival mode and people get caught up in pessimism.” Jo warns. “But now, more than ever, we have to face these feelings and focus on what we can control.”

Coaching to build resilience

Jo is a proponent of coaching to build this much-needed resilience. “Even though people may be facing similar challenges and changes their responses, and therefore their coping requirements are very different,” he explains. “Because coaching has an individual approach, it meets people where they are and allows them to deal with issues that they are personally struggling with.”

As a way of illustrating what he means Jo tells of a company where he coaches five executives. “They are going through the same changes, dealing with the same challenges and the same customer base, but each person’s coaching conversation is vastly different! The coaching allows them to have bespoke dialogues based on what they personally need, when they need it, and how they need it. In contrast, if the business had chosen to not provide them with coaching but rather to send them all onto a training programme, where the same off-the-shelf models were presented, their personal growth may have been very inconsistent. Of course, the most effective way of equipping leaders is a combination of the curriculum-based development and professional coaching which equips leaders with the skills, personal insight, and resilience to lead effectively in these uncertain times.

“Having resilience is like exercising a muscle,” he explains. “Often, we push away the negative feelings or ignore them, but they keep on impacting our thinking. What is more useful is to recognise the feelings, acknowledge them and work through them. In this way we can focus on what is in our control and take small steps towards making changes.”

Coaching can reach anyone anywhere at any time

Jo has seen this in the clients that he works with. “Coaching can reach anyone anywhere at any time. This is what makes it so useful, now more than ever when people are working from home or remotely.” he says. “The value of having a coach is that you have someone you trust to talk to, and who can help you to find your own solutions. Companies that use coaching in conjunction with a structure learning programme have seen an improvement in the desired behaviour change.”

HR must be paying attention and connecting with people now more than ever

For HR Directors dealing with the pandemic Jo has the following advice. “HR must be paying attention and connecting with people now more than ever before,” he recommends. “Reach out to people deliberately, find out what’s happening for them, ask questions about what they need and how they are showing up. Remember to not just focus on work-related issues, also ask them how they are doing personally.” HR should listen to what people are saying, what they are not saying. We need to be creating cultures where asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather shows a spirit of collaboration. “At the same time, HR should focus on themselves and reach out for help if they need it. We cannot support others if our own batteries are depleted.”

This is by no means the last massive change that we will see. It can become a great learning opportunity for us as HR, as organisations and as individuals. When Covid-19 passes, and it will, it will be exciting to see the ‘new-normal’ that emerges.


Listen to the 3-part interview


About Jonathan Thomson

I am an established strategic consultant and leadership coach with more than 30 years of experience in the Retail, Heavy manufacturing, Automotive assembly, Public Health, and Pharmaceutical sectors. I have played a significant role at an executive level in the rebranding and repositioning of businesses, as well as driving enterprise wide change initiatives. My strengths and particular interests lie in the areas of HR strategy design and implementation, organizational development, culture management, and leadership development.


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