–Illustration: Adobe Stock

With traffic and with travel, I predict that coaching will certainly increase because the fees are totally directed to coaching as opposed to travel and other additional logistics to support the task.

Lily Kelly-Radford

Drs. Lily Kelly-Radford and Randall P. White were asked about how executive coaches could weather the pandemic and the move to virtual coaching. Their responses describe a practice that’s always been mostly remote. So there’s no reason to forego your development. And given the continuing upheaval, change and chaos it might be the best thing a leader can do.

What has been the biggest challenge transitioning your in-person coaching business to online?

Lily: The question is a bit more complex. I think when you ask about the transitioning of the business, it’s important to understand that there are components or stages to the coaching process. It’s not just “coaching,” it’s coaching and then the various aspects of coaching.

Randy: The pandemic exacerbates trends that were already in motion for executive education—that’s leadership education which includes getting executive MBAs and coaching. Our education work is having to ramp up to virtual solutions, but coaching is like private swimming lessons for Olympic class swimmers. These are busy people. In our niche of global consultancy, we work with really, really good people at the top of their game and we’re working sometimes across time zones and we’re certainly working to fit in their busy schedule. And while often during the intake part of the coaching we meet people face-to-face, most of the coaching has always been remote.

Lily: Absolutely, we’ve always done the actual coaching – one-on-one phase – both face-to-face and online. This is what occurs with any global business that involves coaching, on a video platform or by telephone. More and more, we’re doing it with the benefit of nonverbal communication, which involve a facial component, and that’s usually through some online application that allows the coach to see the coachee.

However, if the coaching process has a value proposition as high client intimacy and high client service, involving understanding the environment that the coachee operating inside, you would spend time in the organizational environment. You would either do that through interviews or you would spend time in their meetings, serving as a listener to become a better trusted advisor and coach. THIS is a little harder to do virtually than other phases of the process, but yet could be accomplished in virtual meetings now.

Randy: Certainly when you’re in a money center, like London, Frankfurt, New York, Chicago, there are a cadre of coaches–there’s an ecosystem–I think there’s a cadre of coaches who are in the beehive of those cities and they go from office to office.

But there are some high end coaches scattered around the world like my partners and me who are not in the beehive. So we were already doing this style of work.

What tools and/or advice have made that transition easier?

Lily: When you’re in the phase of delivering assessment feedback, that’s part of the coaching that’s ideally done face-to-face, because you want to have the benefit of the full nonverbal experience. But this can be modified, too, by everything from the positioning of the chair, screen sharing (releasing the information with the control of the coach) as opposed to giving them a lot of information beforehand and not being able to walk them through it or do a proper interpretation.

Randy: Actually, if you’re giving data remotely—say, you’re going over feedback that the person hasn’t seen—you have to be a little more careful about how you release the data to the client because you don’t want them to speed read ahead and just get to the bad stuff, because these are all high performance people that they want to get to the bad stuff.  They have a tendency to discount the good stuff!

So a virtual presentation for this is ideal.

Lily: You should certainly use tools that are simple and easy for the person to relate to. You can pick a tool that has a lot of bells and whistles or you can pick a tool that is simple and easy. In the case of coaching, if you’re having a dialogue and you’re talking about examples of situations, and people are trying to understand the way forward through these examples and the back and forth of it, probably a Zoom or WebEx is just as easy. If the medium is a virtual platform, then you can also share a screen and talk them through models that might be helpful. Or use some sort of visuals that also might be helpful.

There are also tools that can be used that are mobile applications such as for voice coaching, which the client can download on their phone. It’s like a meter and it can tell you your pitch and range and so on. We’ve partnered with specialists that work with television talent to provide that guidance.

What advice would you give other coaches that are transitioning their business to be remote?

Randy: With most coaching it’s the way to go, pandemic or not.

I’ve had one client say they feel, as they’re dealing with their people, that they’re having more vulnerable conversations because they’re meeting people in their homes and private spaces. Their kids are in the background, their dogs are in the background. You know, they’re in a private space that’s normally hidden.

Lily: The biggest tool is “self.”

A coach is a tool. Much like a doctor has a stethoscope, the coach is a tool because they work through themselves. So, I think it’s important that they are comfortable with the technology they’re using and that they first teach the recipient – the coachee – about the tool.

It’s about helping them, if they don’t understand the technology, and gradually teaching them to use the buttons and providing some guidance around privacy. If they’re in a room and they’re on a speaker, whether they want to have a headset and have the conversation not heard by others. Do they want to use an iPad? Where do they want to receive the coaching call and the time of day? It’s all around the context and the privacy. YOU are the tool for that.

How has the global pandemic shifted your thinking around virtual coaching?

Randy: If anything, it’s proved the resilience and efficacy of executive coaching because we’ve been doing it remotely for so long. In fact, for a board-of-directors project that I’m doing, I’ve been doing that virtually for the last eight to 10 years. So it’s a continuation of our way of working.  

Lily: Virtual coaching is efficient, and I think it’s here to stay. And I think you can establish rapport even if you start that way.

Visual or telephone. I don’t know if it’s more advantageous, but it is certainly convenient. And if it means that person will keep their appointment or feel that they can be more comfortable in their own environment while they’re being coached, it’s certainly to their advantage.

With traffic and with travel, I predict that coaching will certainly increase because the fees are totally directed to coaching as opposed to travel and other additional logistics to support the task.