The coaching industry, like many other industries, is noticing shifting themes as part of their roles.

MEL TOMLINSON shares some of these new trends her and other coaches are experiencing.

Few industries have gone untouched this year – some have received a step-up, whilst others have been less fortunate. Not least of these more fortunate ones is the coaching industry, which has been rapidly growing over the past 15 years in South Africa.

A large percentage of life and business coaches were already operating from home-based offices or using their client’s premises. Using platforms such as Skype or Zoom has also been familiar, if not the modus operandi, for many professional coaches for many years. As with many other industries, this way of working was simply fast-tracked and has now become more entrenched, or as we now say, the ‘new normal’.

Of more interest is observing the new trends and themes that have become part of the solution that coaches are expected to offer to clients.

Changing challenges

Karen McKenzie, a coach in the Midlands, has found that many young executives have moved into this farming community with their families, commuting to Johannesburg and Durban only when absolutely necessary. This offers a wonderful coaching opportunity, as the idyllic farm-style life combined with commuting can take its toll as families need to adjust and ‘fine-tune’ to develop a healthy balance.

In the major cities, working from home has now become a reality and no longer feels like playing school-school. The novelty of baking cookies as part of a math lesson has worn off, with the reality of this new level of multitasking and the associated conveniences and inconveniences becoming evident.

A coaching client working for a major bank has reported that people’s personas have changed during this period – introverts are showing up as extroverts and vice versa, leaving team members confused and unsure of relationships within their teams.

Many companies, having shed employees, are facing a shortage of the right people in the right places, meaning that those who are fortunate enough to still have a job are expected to pick up the slack and put in the extra hours. Burnout has become the next trending ailment and a direct result of the working hours now expected. The drive to work and back, albeit often a slow and frustrating one, gave people an opportunity to think about the day ahead, mentally prepare for meetings or catch up on the latest news, whilst the return trip was partially an opportunity to process and digest the day, debrief with close friends or wind down to some good music. No-more. Now it is ZOOM-ZOOM, on-all-the-time, a quick Whatsapp becomes a whole conversation and a special request to reply to an email may result in a late-night stint.

New roles and solutions

Coaches are now being called on to assist with fatigue, setting boundaries, dealing with separation anxiety and a new and very different level of addressing and dealing with in-house politics. They have also been required to step in and train teams to use virtual platforms productively. Hands-on leaders have to adjust to being hands-off, and literally having to trust team members far more than before. Expectations have had to be re-contracted and clarified. Is it okay to attend a meeting in pyjamas, with no make-up and having a bad hair day? What if the dog won’t stop barking or the baby starts screaming? How to we deal with embarrassing situations, where someone forgot to mute and then exposed everyone to a domestic moment of rather disturbing proportions?

“The biggest area of concern, currently highlighted by some of the coaches I approached, was the breakdown in communication in teams and the resulting demise of trust within organisations.

The quick check-in with one’s manager, the early morning cup of tea and catch up, or a quick brainstorming session is not easily replaceable online. Besides having to deal with the mere shift to online, a variety of new challenges, some we have not even identified yet, including new mental illnesses and anxiety disorders, have begun showing up,” says Tomlinson.

The power in coaching is that it allows the coachee to feel seen, heard and accepted, as they understand that this is a confidential and safe space to vent, share and most importantly, seek solutions. Teams too can, with the guidance of a coach, work intimately through trust and communication challenges. Tomlinson is guided by the work of Brene Brown’s trust acronym:

BRAVING: Boundaries – Reliability – Accountability – Vault – Integrity – Non-judgement – Generosity.

For Tomlinson, this means unpacking and rebuilding trust in a practical and effective way with a team of 15 line managers, via bi-monthly ZOOM sessions. This can all be made accessible and is far more affordable than pre-COVID methods. Using breakaway rooms can be an especially safe and effective way to create space for vulnerable and authentic engagement in small groups or pairs.

Leaders right now are seeking new ways to lead, and coaching may just offer them the opportunity to discover their own, best solutions. Coaches are available, affordable, flexible and are able to address niche areas, depending on their personal interest, expertise and own work experience. Some companies opt for a variety of coaches, from which employees can choose, or work intimately with one or two trusted coaches.

Coaching is about offering choices, providing a soundboard and opening people up to the possibilities they may not be seeing.

Mel Tomlinson is a COMENSA registered business and consciousness coach, and CEO of Performance Booster a licenced, personal development programme run for businesses.