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Coaching for resilience


At the epicentre of the economic crisis, the once booming financial sector has felt the full force of the recession. So how are the organisations helping leaders make their way through what are unchartered waters? Stephanie Sparrow discovers how coaching is developing resilient leaders in the finance sector.

Coaching has been the people development success story of the past decade, as it has established itself as a business – focussed development tool. And then recession struck, fuelling horror stories of client companies reviewing their coaching arrangements, or organising stringent time- consuming tests for potential coaches and then not contracting with them anyway.

But, to paraphrase Mark Twain, rumours of coaching’s death have been greatly exaggerated. Not only is coaching is managing to adapt and survive, it is even making its mark in the beleagured finance sector where it is helping banks and their ilk to find new directions either for themselves or for the employees they have had to release.

Photo of Robin Linnecar“Crisis is the perfect time to change... People are amenable to discussing new ways [of working and motivating] because they all want to get out of the crisis.” Robin Linnecar, Praesta.

Coaching experts have noticed that a different approach to coaching in this sector now prevails.
“The tone is different from 18 months ago,” says Peter Hawkins, managing director of the Bath Consultancy Group.

“Then there was a sense of riding an upwave, which is no longer there,” he says, adding that in the financial sector as a whole, employees have adopted a mentality closer to survivor syndrome. “People are asking why they have survived when others have lost their jobs,” he says.

But Hawkins, like many others, argues that far from making coaching redundant, this anxiety fuels the need for appropriate interventions which connect value, strategy, people and the commercial imperative, and give the coaching community the opportunity to prove that it is a business tool.

At executive coaching consultancy, Praesta, managing director Robin Linnecar says that his consultancy finds that there is a new agenda for coaches and that their clients are looking for help with team development.

“Its all about the visibility of the team in the business,” he says. “People want to know where they are going, which means that the top team has to be visible and they have to be listening.”

As Linnecar points out, a different kind of leadership is needed, and with it a lot of work on strategic intent and leadership. Following on from this is how to motivate people when you can’t pay them bonuses. He says that the financial sector is looking to initiate discussion and open minds among their employees.

“Crisis is the perfect time to change,” he says, “and if changes need to be made, now is the time to do it. People are amenable to discussing new ways [of working and motivating] because they all want to get out of the crisis.”

Coaches are also playing a key role in guiding the inexperienced. Maverick managers and those on fast tracks are unlikely to have managed in hard times before. “We are helping people to navigate through difficult new waters,” says Linnecar.

Good health and mental resilience are needed for senior people to keep themselves and others on track.

“Stress isn’t a useful concept, but resilience, which is the capacity to be strong, is positive psychology with the ability to bounce back.” Averil Leimon, White Water Strategies.

At White Water Strategies, joint director Averil Leimon is finding that building emotional resilience is a key preoccupation with client companies and coachees alike, and that they are emphasising the importance of building such strengths in preference to discussing “beating stress” which carries negative connotations.

“Stress isn’t a useful concept,” she says, “but resilience, which is the capacity to be strong, is positive psychology with the ability to bounce back.”

Leimon, who is joint author of the new Positive Psychology for Dummies, is seeing a new role for coaching in performance. It is a business tool which can also work in conversations about well-being and life and work satisfaction, but of course this role does not mean that the boundaries between coaching and counselling are becoming blurred. This shift is more about helping people to find ways to be fit, in every sense, to do the job, rather than encouraging them to talk about a loss of control.

Coaching at Co-operative Financial Services.
Angela Ryrie is development delivery manager at the “university for all” training arm of The Co-operative Financial Services.
“We are a well-placed organisation in the financial recession, and we’re building on this to create a learning-, and performance- based culture,” she says.
Ryrie is responsible for commissioning external coaches and delivering some internal coaching herself as part of her aim to encourage employees to be pro-active in looking for career opportunities. “We are driving people to be more assertive,” she says, “and to identify their own goals. The people who want to do well are those who are knocking on my door.”

Leimon has anecdotally, noticed a quest for the “Obama culture”, with the US president acting as a role model for leaders who want to adopt an outwardly relaxed, but composed, approach to their remit and the sense that much of today’s problems can be approached as an intellectual puzzle.

And she says that one-to-one coaching can now play a critical role in the individual’s well-being and life and work satisfaction, as senior people are likely to feel hurt and exhausted.

Jonathan Passmore, an executive coach and programme director of the coaching psychology programme at the University of East London believes that there is an added need for coaches to offer advice on coping with career change and dealing with redundancy situations, either as a possible victim of redundancy or in delivering the bad news to others. This calls for maturity and experience, he says.

“A really experienced coach with an understanding of the sector and awareness of pressures, somebody who can have that balance of being sensitive, compassionate challenging, because tough times mean tough choices, can talk to the coachee about this and help them not to shy away from the conversation,” he says.

Passmore’s experiences are similar to those of Geraldine Gallacher managing director of The Executive Coaching Consultancy. She has clients from the financial, legal and retail sectors.

“We are offering a lot of support to managers who are having to make people redundant, because it could be the first time that they have had to do this,” she says. “We are trying to prepare them both for this and for the period after redundancy when they have to galvanise the team.”

As part of this galvanising approach she encourages people to be proactive and to seek out inspiring stories such as entrepreneurs who made it to the top despite difficult backgrounds. Gallacher also advises people who have been made redundant themselves to place an emphasis on their strengths (“refocus other people onto you,” she says) and to look at what is unique about them.


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