A recent survey of ICF coaches in New Zealand has highlighted the challenges leaders are currently facing through the COVID-19 pandemic. This article is the first in a series of 4 articles written by the ICF New Zealand Northern Leadership Team entitled “Leading In Uncertain Times”.

Pretty much everyone you speak to agrees that strong leadership is critical in uncertain times; and these are unequivocally ‘uncertain times’. How to actually lead in uncertain times, however, is a much harder question to answer. Almost everyone will have a different perspective. It seems that there is much advice – but no tried-and-true, no guaranteed ‘how to’ for leadership success.

Perhaps the thing that resonates with most though, is the suggestion that in order to deliver on leadership and performance expectations, those at the front need to be in good shape. They need to feel healthy and strong within themselves – both bodies and minds – in order to provide competent and convincing leadership for others.

Have a think about it. When do you feel your best and most impactful? Your most resilient? Your most patient and empathetic? Most able to consider other perspectives? Most creative and innovative? Is it when you’re tired, overwhelmed, hungry, unfit, and disconnected from family and friends? Or is it when you feel rested, focused, well nourished, healthy, and connected?

As coaches we often work with clients experiencing a conflict between looking after themselves and delivering for others. In times of crisis and uncertainty, demands and expectations increase, timeframes get reduced, and it can feel like the right thing to do is to work later, sleep less, grab food on the go, and forgo exercise and social connection in order to meet those deadlines. Adrenaline means that this strategy works for a while, but when that wears off and the uncertainty remains. What then?
Working with clients to consider their whole selves and supporting them to find ways to balance their personal needs with the performance demands of their roles is crucial to long-term outcomes.

Below, Alyson, an ICF Professional Certified Coach (PCC) shares her client Cheryl’s* journey.

How did Cheryl come to realise that she needed to put more focus on her own health and wellbeing?

Cheryl, head of the people function in a medium-sized organisation, had received feedback through an anonymous survey that her peers and direct reports were concerned for her health and wellbeing. This got her attention as she knew the impact of burning out from past experience. She had in fact noticed the signs but had been ignoring them until that point.

*name has been changed to preserve anonymity. ‘Cheryl’ has consented to the sharing of this information.