Panic and pandemic: a series of coaching and leadership conversations – part 6

In this series, leadership coach Rachel Ellison MBE shares a beneath-the-surface approach to what’s going on around us, for leaders and coaches.

Part 6: too chaotic to coach

When leaders need it most, many feel they are too busy to have coaching

We continue to acclimatise to the professional and domestic disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic. Top executives have swapped their sushi-and-FTSE lifestyles, for gardening fatigues and working from home.

The spring sunshine, birdsong and pristine blossom is certainly helping many of us adjust. But beneath it some of us are still feeling deeply unsettled or in shock. Some are without work whilst others are overwhelmed with the pressure and volume of tasks required by their job. Laptops glow well into the night.

Anxiety levels are being felt in waves. Dealing with the practicalities may block out time to emotionally process what is going on.


Disruption and derailment is great management speak. But only when nobody’s actually in trauma. Phrases such as ‘lean into the challenge’ and ‘lessons learned’ seem like indulgent expressions of peacetime. Covid-19 is potentially dangerous and deadly. 178 out of 196 countries in the world have declared corona virus outbreaks. 20 are in lock-down. Scientific expertise, government directives and news updates bring home the scale of this pandemic daily.

I find it remarkable how measured and sensible millions of people are managing to be. There is no hysteria. There is immense self-discipline. Few complain. We are all adapting fast. But any inner chaos can crowd out our best thinking. Decisions made on adrenalin can be inspired ones. Or conversely, can seem sound at the time, but are not.

Too chaotic to coach

Some employees are asking for support. Others feel too pressured to coach. They’re already working 12 – 16 hour days and can’t see how they can fit in another meeting.

With impressive speed, certain companies have thrown together instant-access coaching programmes. Whilst holding acute awareness of ethics and usual best practice, they are minimising process and dissolving any delay in connecting their leaders with a coach if they want one. Equally, coaches are being told to prepare for quick coaching, say 30 minute sessions rather than the traditional 1.5 – 2 hours. To be prepared to rapidly respond to a call, rather than schedule for a month ahead.

Hurry up and think

We know that rushing people to think faster doesn’t usually hasten the onset of brilliant ideas. But offering leaders help right now could emotionally reset their whole day. And with it, the quality of their leadership.

The existential philosophers tell us never to assume that a small action only has a small consequence. Nor that a large gesture will have a big effect. Creating a moment of stillness and space – every other day or every other week – might be what C-suite executives currently need most. So coaches and corporations need to be open minded about what intervention could look like in the Covid-19 leadership environment.

Maintaining flow

We need to keep leaders mentally supple and emotionally dexterous. They must be able to contain the varied spikes of emotion associated with their home and working lives, and in addition the personal-professional demands on those they lead. In particular, we need them to keep ‘feeling’ and stay attuned to their psychological state.

Leaders need to find their ‘flow’, bending like a reed in the storm, rather than snapping like a wooden stake when they feel overwhelmed. This is what gentle yet enduring resilience looks like.

Coaching and leadership conversation themes:

–     Feelings

–     Flow   

–     Disruption

–     Adrenalised thinking

–     Rushed decision making

–     Quality

–     Tuning in to one’s psychological state


A version of this article first appeared in the online publication Training Zone.

About the author

Rachel Ellison MBE is a former BBC news reporter, now executive leadership coach. Rachel was awarded an honorary doctorate for her book, Global Leadership & Coaching – flourishing under intense pressure at work. She takes a beneath-the-surface psychological approach to leadership challenges and events in the world around us.

Rachel is currently offering short-burst 30 minute virtual ‘emergency coaching’ packages, for leaders and those supporting them during the Covid-19 pandemic.


The Leader’s Way: the art of making the right decisions in our careers, our companies and the world at large.