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Using Coaching Approach As Part of the Leadership toolbox in the VUCAP(P for Pandemic) World

Writer: Professional Erickson Coach, İffet TÜRKEN

Subject: We need instant adaptability to the new skillsets in the unknown future of work. Covid-19 pandemic is showing how change is accelerating and so as the need for adaptability. Much is talked about the skill sets we would need but less is discussed how business people will be able to adapt to them. In this article, “coaching approach” is suggested as a crucial tool in business for managers’ self-adaptation and their teams’ adaptability in the VUCAP (P for pandemic) world.


Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.

Albert Einstein

Already before the pandemic we were talking about the obscure future of work. In the very near future one might be looking at today’s nonexistent jobs. The reasons for that is automation in many areas, digitalization, mega trends and in brief exponential change. “More than 1 billion jobs, almost one-third of all jobs worldwide, are likely to be transformed by technology in the next decade, according to OECD estimates” (Zaidi, 2020). In short future of work is unpredictable and besides business people will be competing in some ways not only against the humans but also with the robots meaning the Artificial intelligence (Fadilpašić, 2020).

In 2025, analytical thinking, creativity, and flexibility will be among the most sought-after skills. We will need to learn, unlearn and learn and unlearn. This is why active learning is among the mostly sought skills (Whiting, 2020). This we knew already and that we need to use every opportunity to develop our soft skills for a further understanding and boost of such skills in our business life (Türken, 2020).

Last but not least Covid-19 is the orchestration of how change can become so exponential, giving us a glimpse of imagination how other possible major disruptive changes such as the climate change might necessitate, us, humankind for very sharp ways of adaptation.  

According to the World Economic Forum’ “The Future of Jobs 2020” report; the workplace skills and trends have shifted due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the global recession. These shifts have already accelerated the appearance of the future of work and signal for new opportunities in innovation and reskilling. 94% of the business leaders expect employees to learn new skills on their job (World Economic Forum, 2020). 

Top Skills:

  1. Analytical thinking & innovation 
  2. Active learning & learning strategies
  3. Complex problem-solving 
  4. Critical thinking & analysis 
  5. Creativity, originality & initiative 

Interestingly but not unexpectedly, the top five desired skills are all about the way humans think, learn, problem solve, and innovate – all core competencies of coaching (Erickson International, 2020).

What is a “coaching approach”? And more importantly how could it be used as a powerful instrument for the managers in order to be able to adapt to the unknown future. Here in this article “coaching approach” refers to having a reflective state with a certain level of knowledge, consciousness, awareness and motivation for coaching. Any manager who is willing to use the “coaching approach” would need to have a certain awareness and to be able to act as a catalyst in someone else’s development.   

Below are some of the crucial tools of the coaching approach which might help to managers in a VUCAP era.   

Listening deeply

“Only from the heart can you touch the sky.” – Rumi 

According to Carl Rogers, we all have a natural urge to judge, evaluate, and approve (or disapprove) another person’s statement. However we can achieve real communication and avoid this evaluative tendency when we listen with understanding. This means seeing the expressed idea and attitude from the other person’s point of view, sensing how it feels to the person, achieving his or her frame of reference about the subject being discussed. 

The coaching approach is about taking a genuine interest on what the other is saying. The ability to focus and bring attention back needs a training of the mind. Our awareness of another person's mental state is related to how well we know our own mental state. It is only possible when there is reflective mindset not an impulsive one that the listening will take place (Siegel 2010/2018 p.109).It certainly needs practice to do so and being there in the “now” by being able to focusing to the other. The pre-condition of becoming aware of others is to become aware of yourself.  The engraving on the temple of Apollo in Delphi, “Know thyself” is fresh for thousands of years as it emphasizes the value of self-awareness. (Laporte, 2020)

Asking powerful questions  

“Every person has abilities not known to the self.” – Milton Erickson

What are powerful questions? They are the open-ended questions. When one gives people the opportunity to answer close-ended questions, with yes or no they will cut themselves off from that opportunity. Why are open-ended questions important? Open-ended questions can bring to mind…. discovery, insight, commitment which can be fueled by action afterwards. It is imperative that managers become accustomed to asking good open-ended questions. Asking a question, on the other hand, naturally engages partnership. 

The power of open-ended questions is also that they can generate more open-ended questions. In the business setting, open-ended questions create a ripple that can reach far into an organization. Open-ended questions create better team relationships, accelerate solutions and create an inclusiveness for high-performance management (Atkinson, 2018). 

There is need to acknowledge the neuroscience supporting this approach. Neuroscience informs us about the neuroplasticity of the brain. In a nutshell; the wiring of our brain is not fixed and it is adaptable and so can be changed (Davidson, 2019) Neuroplasticity is a term that is used to describe the brain changes that occur in response to experience. There are many different mechanisms of neuroplasticity ranging from the growth of new connections to the creation of new neurons. We can learn to use the focus of the mind to actually change the connections in the brain itself. Powerful open-ended questions have the potential to enhance creativity and the reflective state of mind will open countless opportunities in this new world especially in terms of innovation.  

Crafting the “coaching position” as a reflective space

“Love is the absence of judgement.” –Dalai Lama

The term VUCA—short for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity—originated with the U.S. Army in order to describe how the world was changing in the start of the Cold War. 2020 was a year to show to us that we might need to add the P as for Pandemic. The world beyond, we might face larger scale disruptions which seem to be fueling uncertainty and will necessitate the use of some new skillsets.  It will be much more crucial to be in a reflective state of mind than the impulsive one. As this will create a space for focusing on the now and also the long term purpose. 

Feeling threatened takes over our perception. When we are reactive, we return to our primitive behavior without flexibility or compassion. Without an internal learning that teaches us to stop and to reflect, we become unable to resist these influences that push us to live in an automated way (Siegel 2010/2018 p.392-395). The coaching position would be described as to stay neutral and to look at the situation not only from our own eyes, but from the others eyes (we might also refer to much discussed concept of empathy) and additionally to be able perceive the situation from the camera distance such as from an altitude and equal distance to all the parties involved. It is only by acting with different perceptions that we can manage to stay with the reflective state of mind instead of impulsiveness.

At the core of “coaching approach” is a focus on the human potential growth

What you are thinking is what you are becoming.” Muhammad Ali

We do not know the future of work clearly and what will be the new skill sets but we can continue to learn, unlearn and learn in this VUCAP world. 

We can do that as we humans are work in progress. With 86 billion neurons in our brain every experience is a chance for change (Cherry, 2020).  Being aware of our adaptability and learning to learn might be our strongest tool for the unknown future of work. Collaborating with our brain’s ability of neuroplasticity will enable us to adapt to the change and with this resilient mind set we can acquire the skill sets that might appear in the horizon. 


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