“Leadership is often crisis mode” HLA’s McQueen and fellow panelist reflect on the role of coaching for leadership in complex times

13 May 2020 | Burlington, Ontario
Contributed by Laura J. Smith


Challenging times highlight the complexity of leadership and the continued importance of coaching, says Greg McQueen, Co-Director of the Health Leadership Academy, and Facilitator of its Emerging Leaders Program. McQueen was co-panelist with Richard Winters, MD, Medical Director of Professional Development at the Mayo Clinic at a McMaster Collaboratorium webinar “Coaching for Leadership in Complex Times,” on 16th April 2020.

Host Professor Michael Hartmann asked McQueen and Winters to reflect on coaching in crisis and the ways in which coaching, and the role of the coach has changed in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both panelists noted that while some of the best practices approaches to coaching, face-to-face contact for example, have changed in the current climate, coaching’s relevance remains clear. Regardless of the medium through which they communicate, a coach must work to understand their client, their world, and what they bring to the table, says McQueen. Coaching helps individuals adapt to challenges and “make sense of the world and of chaos and complexity,” said Winters.

Hartmann asked both panelists how they coach leaders to navigate the ambiguity often present in a crisis. Winters responded that he ensures his clients know that everyone experiences stress and their response to crisis is perfectly normal and healthy. Winters added, leaders need to draw on the support of their teams and think about how to navigate infallibility and communicate their decisions effectively, particularly if there is no immediate resolution or final answer.

In response to an audience question about whether leaders need to be taskmasters or cheerleaders in a crisis, McQueen replied that they need to be both. Effective leadership depends on three pillars of action: assessing, challenging, and supporting. Leaders need to do all three, McQueen argued, without applying all three their leadership effectiveness diminishes dramatically. McQueen noted that the current climate is “crisis mode,” but that leadership is often “crisis mode,” and thus good leaders need to be consistently fair, in order to be sure they are trusted, particularly in crisis situations.

Now is a great time for personal development, Winters added. He encourages his clients to see the opportunity for personal growth in the heightened challenges they are currently facing. McQueen has seen an increase in leaders who manage multiple teams looking for his support and seeking an objective voice to help them make effective decisions in crisis situations. Both panelists agreed that the long-term effect of the current crisis will necessitate reconsidering coaching techniques, models, and culture. At the Mayo clinic, the focus is turning toward scaling individual coaching, and moving toward peer coaching models while also infusing coaching culture throughout the organization. At the Health Leadership Academy, participants in the Emerging Leaders program get to experience both: one-on-one coaching with professional coaches, and the benefit of peer support through peer feedback sessions.

To register for upcoming Collaboratorium sessions, and to listen to a recording of this session and others in the series, see the Collaboratorium website.

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