With no obvious path forward, what do clients want from their coaching at the moment? And what qualities must we as coaches bring to the session?

By Lindsay Wittenberg

The whole world is making its hesitant way through Covid-19. Leaders, managers, healthcare workers (whom I’m encountering in increasing numbers in the Coaching Through Covid programme) and many others are having a tough time with uncertainty and risk.

Those with preferences for clarity, control, consistency and an obvious path forward are in some discomfort, as these are in short supply, in an environment characterised by risk which seems to change constantly.

Government policies that regulate the fundamentals of how people interact physically with each other can be both unpredictable and vitally important to how organisations can resource themselves to function, recover and flourish.

More communication is taking place by video-conferencing. It brings advantages but also impedes the understanding that comes from the direct yet subtle physical cues we get in a room with another person. The underlying uncertainties this creates can be unsettling.

The difficulties of planning in this climate, the variations on lockdown, the implications for organisations of inhibited access to clients or user bases, and for medical staff of dealing with Covid-19, are changing the coaching agenda. Some of my clients seem to be knocked off-balance, with some concerned about whether they’ll even have a job in the months to come.

The directions in which clients want to take their coaching seem to be changing significantly from session to session, perhaps as a reflection of their distractedness and their response to risk in their everyday lives. The need to build resilience is in the spotlight – psychological, health, social and relationship resilience.

I’m noticing that more than ever, I need to bring qualities of mindful presence, calm, compassion, versatility, resourcefulness and creativity to my coaching sessions – and, ironically, to slow them down when the client wants to hurry up. Clients need to make sense of their situations before they can be meaningfully addressed, too: I need to bring all those qualities to myself in a spirit of self-care so I can be there for my clients.

For clients used to developing clear solutions and at least medium-term plans (now a receding luxury) two approaches can be particularly resourcing: systemic constellations and Garvey Berger’s (Garvey Berger & Johnston, 2015) approach to complexity.

Systemic constellations helps clients gain fresh perspectives on relationships (between themselves and others, and themselves and roles, emotions, issues and pressures) and choices they hadn’t previously realised.

Garvey Berger’s approach to complexity highlights safe-to-fail experiments with clear guardrails, which nourish learning, adapting, experimenting and learning again. We’ll need to sharpen learning edges while taking care of ourselves more conscientiously.


  • Those who prefer clarity, control, consistency and a path are in discomfort
  • Some clients are knocked off-balance
  • There is a need to build resilience
  • We need to bring mindful presence, calm, compassion, versatility, resourcefulness and creativity to coaching
  • I [may] need to slow down sessions
  • Systemic constellations and Garvey Berger’s approach to complexity are particularly resourcing


  • J Garvey Berger and K Johnston, Simple Habits for Complex Times, Stanford Business Books, 2015

  • Lindsay Wittenberg is director of Lindsay Wittenberg Ltd. She is an executive coach who specialises in authentic leadership, career development and cross-cultural coaching



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